An annual parade of Jewish Israelis through the Muslim Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem passed with few incidents as tens of thousands waved Israeli flags under heavy guard Sunday to mark 49 years since the city’s capture and unification in 1967.
Police deployed over 2,000 officers across Jerusalem on Sunday, amid fears that the nationalist demonstration could inflame tensions as it wound its way through the Muslim Quarter.
Raising the stakes even higher, this year’s march came as Muslims prepared to begin observing the fasting month of Ramadan, when many Palestinians visit the flashpoint al-Aqsa Mosque in the Temple Mount compound in Jerusalem’s Old City.
The so-called Jerusalem Day Flag March passed through the Muslim Quarter of the Old City before arriving at the Western Wall, which is directly below the Temple Mount compound.
Damascus Gate and the route of the march have been the site of several attacks on Israeli civilians and security personnel since the outbreak of violence in September of last year.
Some 30,000 demonstrators, most of them young religious nationalist Jews, participated in the march, which began in the Western half of the city at 5:15 p.m.
A number of marchers sported stickers and posters with far-right slogans, and two people waving flags of the ultra-nationalist Lehava organization were removed by police. A handful of people wore stickers that called for the transfer of Arab citizens from Israel or expressed support for the late extremist Rabbi Meir Kahane.
Marchers sang “Am Yisrael Chai,” “Jerusalem of Gold,” and other religious and national songs, as they made their way past shuttered Muslim shops and homes where residents were reportedly told not to leave.
Two minors were arrested by police for allegedly shouting racist remarks, a police spokesperson said.
The vast majority of revelers danced and sang as they moved through the Arab area, some antagonizing the local residents and journalists, yelling at them or blocking their cameras.
However, the march passed mostly quietly, with no major security incidents reported, as police kept close watch and guard on the parade.
“We shall be there in very large numbers,” Israel Police spokesman Asi Aharoni said before the march. “We have more than 2,000 police just for the Jerusalem Day events.”
Israeli rights group Ir Amim had asked the Supreme Court to bar the march from entering the Old City through Damascus Gate, the main entry used by Palestinians.
The court rejected the appeal, but required the marchers to complete their passage through the Damascus Gate by 6:15 p.m and through the Muslim quarter by 7 p.m.
A photo reportedly taken at 6:20 p.m. showed hundreds of marchers still outside the gate, which apparently was not closed on time.
השעה 18:20 כך נראית הכניסה לשער שכם. בג״צ פסק שהשער ייסגר לכניסה ב18:15, המשטרה והמארגנים לא עמדו בהוראות בית המשפט pic.twitter.com/yyjOyYSt9n
— עמרי מניב omri maniv (@omrimaniv) June 5, 2016
The time restrictions were in place in preparation for the expected start of Ramadan on Sunday night. The start of Ramadan coincides with the new moon.
The police also asked the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court for a restraining order on five members of the far-right Lehava organization, which would ban them from entering the Old City during the parade. The five were held for questioning last week during a protest against a Christian mission and were pressured to sign the terms of the exclusion, Walla news reported.
“Lehava activists have the right to march in Jerusalem with flags, and the police inability to internalize that freedom of expression applied to all signals that they need to take a course in civil rights and democracy,” far-right lawyer Itamar Ben Gvir, who is opposing the police request in court, said.
Israel captured East Jerusalem in the 1967 Six Day War and later annexed it in a move not recognized by the international community.
Palestinians see East Jerusalem as the capital of their future independent state. Israelis see all of Jerusalem as their capital.
The future status of Jerusalem is among the most contentious issues in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The march comes days after an international summit in France called for a renewed peace effort by the end of the year.
Marking the date, which is known in Arabic as the Naksa, or “setback,” Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas vowed in a statement that Ramallah would only accept a full Israeli withdrawal from all territory captured by Israel during the 1967 Six Day War.
“Our nation will not agree in any way to less than a full end to the Israeli occupation that began in June 1967 and the establishment of a sovereign independent Palestinian state,” Abbas said, according to the official Wafa news agency.
Times of Israel staff and AFP contributed to this report.