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Jerusalem Day ‘Flag March’ will limit attendance at Damascus Gate, Western Wall

Organizers of Sunday’s nationalistic event cite crowding concerns in restricting entry on controversial march route

Israelis wave national flags during a Jerusalem Day march, in Jerusalem, May 10, 2021. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)
Israelis wave national flags during a Jerusalem Day march, in Jerusalem, May 10, 2021. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

The organizers of the nationalistic Jerusalem Day “Flag March” said Tuesday that attendance will be limited at certain points due to crowding concerns at the Western Wall, where the parade ends.

This year’s annual parade will take place on Sunday.

The “Flag March” route is fraught, with opponents seeing its procession through the Old City’s Muslim Quarter as a provocation, and supporters seeing it as an expression of Israel’s sovereignty over Jerusalem.

Israeli authorities have restricted entries to mass gatherings, including at the Western Wall, after a stampede in Mount Meron in northern Israel killed 45 people last year. The crush at the holy site during the Lag B’Omer holiday festivities was Israel’s worst-ever peacetime disaster.

The rules for the march announced on Tuesday mean that attendance at the Western Wall will be limited to 16,000 participants.

“Following limits on the numbers of people at the Western Wall, 8,000 marchers will proceed to the wall through Damascus Gate, and another 8,000 will march through Jaffa Gate,” the organizers said.

“For the remaining tens of thousands, a massive dance event will take place next to Jaffa Gate,” they said.

“Out of responsibility for the safety of the participants and their security, the changes were decided in coordination with a request from the Israel Police, to ensure their safe return,” the organizers said.

The organizers have decided to make the main event the dance outside the Old City. Those who are not able to go to the Western Wall immediately will be able to visit the site later, as the crowd there leaves.

Thousands of Israelis wave flags as they celebrate Jerusalem Day at the Western Wall on May 24, 2017. (Mendy Hechtman/Flash90)

Jerusalem has been on edge ahead of the parade, mainly due to tensions surrounding the Temple Mount holy site.

Last week, Public Security Minister Omer Barlev, who oversees police, announced that the march, scheduled for May 29, would be held along the same route as in previous years. Last year, the route was changed at the last minute in a bid to avoid conflagration, but the change did not prevent Hamas from firing rockets at Jerusalem, sparking an 11-day conflict.

According to the Barlev-approved plan, marchers will walk along Jaffa Street to Damascus Gate, where access will be blocked for Palestinians. They will continue into the Old City through Hagai Street in the Muslim Quarter and finish at the Western Wall.

Barlev’s announcement sparked controversy in the coalition, with left-wing lawmakers attacking the decision, saying it risked causing an escalation with Palestinian terror groups, and Ministers Yair Lapid and Benny Gantz reportedly expressing reservations.

Jerusalem Day, which marks Israel’s capture of the Old City and East Jerusalem from Jordan in the 1967 Six Day War, is celebrated by national-religious Jews, most prominently by youths who march through the capital, while dancing with Israeli flags. Palestinians have long viewed the march as a provocation.

Young national-religious men take part in the Jerusalem Day Flag Dance at the Damascus Gate in the Old City of Jerusalem on May 13, 2018. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)

Following the announcement of the route, Palestinian terror groups warned against allowing the event to go through.

“I want to clearly warn the enemy against committing these crimes and these steps. The Palestinian people, led by the resistance — especially those in the West Bank and Jerusalem — will not permit this Jewish, Talmudic rubbish to go unanswered,” Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh said earlier this week.

“Our decision is clear and unhesitating… We will resist with all our capabilities and we will not permit the violation of the Al-Aqsa Mosque or thuggery in the streets of Jerusalem,” he said.

This year’s march again comes during roiling tensions between Israel and the Palestinians. Since March 22, a wave of deadly terror attacks has struck Israeli cities, killing 19 — the bloodiest violence outside of war in years.

Israeli counter-raids in the West Bank left at least 30 Palestinians dead over the same period. Many were gunmen involved in firefights with Israeli soldiers or took part in violent clashes. Others were apparently uninvolved civilians, such as Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, who was killed in disputed circumstances during clashes between Israeli troops and Palestinian gunmen two weeks ago in Jenin, sparking an international outcry.

Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai on Monday defended his recommendation to allow the march to go through predominantly Palestinian areas of the Old City as maintaining “the freedom of worship, protest, and expression, for everyone.”

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