NGOs petition High Court to change Jerusalem Day march route

Activists seek to reconfigure annual flag parade to prevent recurring incidents of nationalistic violence in Muslim Quarter

Israeli youth chant outside an Arab store in the Old City during Jerusalem Day's 'flag march,' May 21, 2009. (photo credit: Abir Sultan/Flash90)
Israeli youth chant outside an Arab store in the Old City during Jerusalem Day's 'flag march,' May 21, 2009. (photo credit: Abir Sultan/Flash90)

A coalition of activists and NGOs petitioned the High Court of Justice Monday to change the route of the annual Jerusalem Day march, so that it does not pass through the Muslim Quarter of the Old City.

The initiative was spearheaded by organizations Tag Meir and Ir Amim, who say that the March 17 national holiday has increasingly become a rally of racism, hatred and incitement to violence against Jerusalem’s Palestinian population.

As part of the event celebrating the reunification of Jerusalem following the Six Day War in 1967, thousands of Israelis attend the annual march of flags, which traditionally enters the Old City via the Muslim Quarter en route to the Western Wall.

This year, the march is set to take place on May 17.

“March organizers and police do not have a legal basis to require residents and merchants to barricade themselves inside their homes until the storm has passed,” Attorney Eitay Mack wrote in the petition.

Mack emphasized that the petitioners are not seeking to cancel the parade, but rather to have it take place along a less-provocative route.

The group says the petition was submitted after the Jerusalem District Police refused to change the route, despite the increasing number of incidents of verbal and physical violence.

“You cannot leave the house at all that day, because last year, when Palestinians walked outside they were beaten up brutally. It’s just really scary,” one resident of the Muslim Quarter was quoted as saying in the petition.

Another Muslim Quarter store owner — who closes his business during the holiday — said that crowds vandalize and damage the property of local homes and businesses.

In 2014, flag-carrying Israelis were filmed skirmishing with Palestinians at Damascus Gate. On nearby Salah al-Din Street, Palestinians stoned an Egged bus, injuring seven Israelis. The previous year, similar disturbances led to the arrest of 23 Palestinians and 13 Israelis.

“Year after year, Jerusalem Day becomes a platform for extremely harsh violence,” Neta Polizer, a 26-year-old Arabic literature student at Hebrew University, told The Times of Israel. Last year, Polizer said he witnessed a large group of Jewish youths shouting racist slogans as they walked through the Muslim Quarter, and continued to chant them on King George Street in western Jerusalem.

“They were chanting ‘Muhammad is dead’ and ‘Death to the Arabs.’ It’s painful to witness, because these aren’t just chants, it’s incitement that becomes ecstatic. Guys were jumping up and down, adults as well as youngsters. Every year, this day brings out the worst in people.”

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