Nationalist groups reschedule controversial Jerusalem march scuttled by rockets

Unconfirmed reports say organizers have police permission for parade via Muslim Quarter on Thursday, amid warnings event could reignite violence that engulfed region last month

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)

Right-wing and national religious groups have said they plan to hold a controversial flag parade in Jerusalem’s Old City on June 10, after police canceled the annual Jerusalem Day march mid-event May 10 when Hamas fired a barrage of rockets toward the city. Some Hebrew media reports Friday said police have given permission for the march to pass through the Old City’s Muslim Quarter; there was no immediate police comment.

The rearranged march could reignite violence in the capital and beyond, critics are warning. It is also due to take place days before a coalition that includes right-wing parties and an Islamic party is set to seek approval in the Knesset, in a bid to oust the current government led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“We will once again be marching through the streets of Jerusalem with our heads held high and Israeli flags raised. We will demand the unification of Jerusalem forever. Come in droves!” organizers said in an announcement posted Thursday on social media.

The announcement was cosigned by several right-wing and religious Zionist groups including the Bnei Akiva youth movement, Im Tirzu, and the Ariel and Etzion Bloc of settlements. It was also signed by the far-right Religious Zionism Party.

The annual march traditionally takes place on Jerusalem Day, when Israel commemorates the reunification of the city after Israeli forces captured East Jerusalem, including the Old City and its holy sites, in the 1967 Six Day War.

Several Hebrew media outlets, including Ynet, Arutz 7 and Haaretz, reported Friday that the organizers have received police permission to hold the event on June 10, with a permit to march to the Western Wall through the Damascus Gate entrance of the Old City and via the Muslim Quarter. That route has long been deemed as provocative by Israeli and Palestinian critics, given that local Arab shop owners are forced to shutter their stores so law enforcement can secure the Palestinian-majority area for the mainly nationalist Jewish revelers.

But Israel Police did not immediately confirm the route, and Ynet later reported that they had yet to sign off on the final authorization.

Israelis take cover as a siren sounds warning of incoming rockets from the Gaza Strip, during Jerusalem Day, in Jerusalem, May 10, 2021. (Flash90)

Channel 12 said marchers would be permitted to enter the Old City through several gates but not Damascus Gate. They would then be allowed to make their way through the Old City alleys to the Western Wall. It was not clear if this meant going through the Muslim Quarter.

There is no symbolic significance to the new date, but it will come days before an expected vote to swear in a new “change bloc” government consisting of eight diverse parties, from the right-wing Yamina and New Hope to the Islamist Ra’am party, and could further challenge the shaky alliance that is trying to oust Netanyahu.

The Old City of Jerusalem, with the Temple Mount, site of the biblical Jewish Temples and now home to the Al-Aqsa-Mosque and Dome of the Rock shrine, has traditionally been one of the major flashpoints in the Israel-Palestinian conflict.

Netanyahu’s government agreed to reroute the flag march away from Damascus Gate and the Muslim Quarter hours before the May 10 celebration was slated to begin, buckling to pressure from the US, which worried the original parade route would cause tensions in the city to boil over.

The city was already on edge due to widespread protests and clashes ahead of looming evictions of Palestinians in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah and a crackdown on violent protests at the Temple Mount compound during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

Hamas used the violence in the city as a pretext to launch rockets on Jerusalem, sparking 11 days of intense fighting that saw more than 4,000 rockets fired at Israel and the IDF carry out some 1,500  strikes on Gaza. The march was officially suspended when the rockets were fired, but some participants completed it.

Israeli security forces and Palestinian Muslim worshippers clash at Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, at Temple Mount, on May 21, 2021. (AHMAD GHARABLI / AFP)

Twelve civilians were killed in Israel during the fighting with Hamas, two of them from injuries sustained while running to a bomb shelter and the rest from direct rocket strikes, as well as one soldier who was killed in an anti-tank guided missile attack early in the fighting. Hundreds more were injured.

During the fighting, 253 Palestinians were killed, including 67 minors. The IDF maintains that most of the people killed were members of terror groups, including at least one of the minors, a 17-year-old. It also said some of the civilians killed were hit not by Israeli strikes but by errant rockets from Gaza that failed to clear the border and landed within the Strip.

Since a ceasefire was declared on May 21, the Egyptian military has led an effort to negotiate a long-term ceasefire between Israel and Hamas, including a prisoner exchange. Hamas has warned that events in Jerusalem could see a resumption of hostilities.

In response to Thursday’s announcement by the organizers of the march, the Tag Meir civil society group issued a plea to Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai urging him to rethink his reported decision to approve the event, saying it would reignite tensions in the Old City, which have calmed since the fighting in Gaza ended last month.

“Past experience has unfortunately shown that the flag march in the Muslim Quarter of Jerusalem has been accompanied by hate songs, damages to [Palestinian merchant’s] stalls, banging on storefronts with flag poles and more,” Tag Meir wrote in a letter to Shabtai. “On calmer days it is possible that such a parade would have passed in peace.”

Thousands of mostly young, Jewish teenagers wave Israeli flags as they march through the Muslim Quarter on their way to the Western Wall to celebrate Jerusalem Day on June 5, 2016. (Judah Ari Gross/Times of Israel)

The group acknowledged that the majority of the tens of thousands of mainly young national-religious revelers do not resort to violence at these events, “but this time there is a real fear that those who participated in the property vandalism and mob beatings at the riots will infiltrate the march,” the statement said, referring to widescale Jewish-Arab clashes that broke out in Israel’s mixed cities at the start of the Israel-Hamas fighting.

During a peace walk organized by Tag Meir, a woman hands a flower to an Arab shopkeeper in Jerusalem’s Old City ahead of the Jerusalem Day flag parade, May 24, 2017. (Courtesy)

“Given the low number of detainees in the Jewish sector [following the riots], these fears are not unfounded,” Tag Meir said.

Matan Peleg, who heads the far-right Im Tirzu organization that is one of the march’s organizers, said in a statement: “Jerusalem is the heart of our nation and therefore the enemies of Israel strive to cut us off from it. Without Zion there is no Zionism and the renewal of the flag march is the victory of Zionist Jerusalem, free and open, over the axis of evil and darkness.”

“We call on the entire public to come this coming Thursday and celebrate with us the unity of Jerusalem and the State of Israel,” he added.

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