At least a hundred Israelis marched through downtown Jerusalem Saturday night to protest what they described as politically volatile moves next week that would increase tensions with Palestinians.
The demonstration organized by various left-wing groups specifically denounced the US decision to move its embassy to Jerusalem, as well as the annual Jerusalem Day celebrations which includes a politically charged march through the Old City’s Muslim Quarter.
The protesters called to “stop escalating tensions, spreading hatred, and provocations that undermine a chance for peace.”
“We’re fed up with cynical politicians who are trying to gain political capital at our expense. Whoever really loves Jerusalem, fights for its education and infrastructure, not transfer the US embassy here, which will only lead to violence,” one of the protest organizers, Sof Pitishi, said in a statement.
The demonstration was organized by coexistence group Standing Together and settlement watchdog Peace Now.
On Sunday, thousands of Israelis are expected to take part in the annual Jerusalem Day parade celebrating 51 years since the reunification of Jerusalem during the 1967 Six Day War.
The march — in which primarily religious teenagers march through the Old City decked in white and blue, the colors of the Israeli flag — has raised tensions over its route through the Old City’s Muslim Quarter. In previous years, the march has sparked violence between Israeli revelers and local Palestinian residents.
Amid fears that the nationalist demonstration could inflame tensions with local Arab residents, police over the weekend stressed that officers would show “zero tolerance for verbal abuse or physical violence” during the event.
Israel is also girding for violence on Tuesday, when six weeks of violent clashes with Palestinian protesters along the Gaza borders will culminate with annual demonstrations marking “Nakba Day,” the so-called “catastrophe” of Israel’s founding in 1948, a day after the dedication of the US embassy in Jerusalem.
On recent Fridays, Palestinian protesters have burned tires along the fence, hurled stones at Israeli troops and flown incendiary kites over dry fields on the Israeli side of the border. Some of the protesters, mainly youths, brandished wire cutters, a popular tool in weekly attempts to cut through the border fence.
According to the Hamas health ministry, 48 Palestinians have been killed since protests and clashes began along the Gaza border on March 30, and hundreds of others have been wounded by gunfire. Israel says it only opens fire when necessary to stop infiltrations, damage to the fence, and attacks.
Last week, Hamas’s leader in Gaza Yahya Sinwar said he hoped that hundreds of thousands of Palestinians would breach the border fence from Gaza into Israel on Monday. He said the mass protest would be “decisive,” and vowed that he and other top officials were “ready to die” in a campaign ostensibly to end Israel’s decade-old blockade of the territory.
As a precaution against violence next week, a police official told the Ynet news site on Friday that security had been significantly bolstered throughout the capital city.
He said thousands of uniformed police and Border Police officers will be deployed throughout Jerusalem starting Sunday and that in recent weeks security forces had carried out both “overt and covert operations against anyone who intended to disrupt or damage the [US embassy] ceremony.”