Under tight security, a significant number of Israeli nationalists made their way through the Muslim section of Jerusalem’s Old City, as tens of thousands participated in an annual event that drew criticism from Palestinians.
This parade, held on Jerusalem Day to commemorate Israel’s seizure of the city in the 1967 Middle East conflict, has evolved into a display of strength by Jewish nationalists, while Palestinians perceive it as a deliberate provocation aimed at eroding their connection to the city.
Despite concerns that the event could trigger further violence, particularly after recent cross-border exchanges with Palestinian militants in Gaza, the march concluded without significant security disruptions.
Throughout the afternoon, boisterous groups of Jewish youths engaged in dancing and chanting, leading to tense encounters where inflammatory slogans, including “Death to Arabs, “Mohammed is Dead” and “May Your Village Burn” were shouted.
Several journalists covering the event were also subjected to attacks by participants.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu affirmed his decision to proceed with the march despite security apprehensions, as it culminated in a large assembly before the Western Wall.
“Jerusalem will stay united forever,” he said.
While Israeli police had previously stated their zero-tolerance policy towards violence and incitement, they primarily focused on maintaining a separation between the opposing sides and took minimal action to address the chants. Palestinian businesses remained closed or devoid of customers, and sporadic instances occurred where marchers threw water bottles at nearby journalists, receiving applause from the crowd. Police reported that two individuals were arrested for throwing objects.
Amid tight police protection, Itamar Ben-Gvir, the National Security Minister and a member of Israel’s new far-right governing coalition, participated in the march. Ben-Gvir, a former extremist activist and staunch West Bank settler, has a criminal record for charges related to incitement and backing a Jewish extremist organization. With enthusiastic gestures, he acknowledged the crowd as he entered Damascus Gate and exchanged high-fives with security forces present. Notably, Ben-Gvir is responsible for overseeing the country’s police force.
Earlier on Thursday, a large group of Jewish pilgrims, including lawmakers, visited the Al-Aqsa mosque compound in the Old City. The site holds significance for both Muslims, who refer to it as the Noble Sanctuary, and Jews, who consider it the Temple Mount, representing their ancient temples. Although the visits were peaceful, Palestinians are upset about the increasing number of Jewish visitors who disregard the prohibition on non-Muslim worship at the site.
Jordan, which has the responsibility of safeguarding the Muslim and Christian holy sites in Jerusalem, criticized the visits as provocative and potentially heightening tensions.
Palestinians perceive the heavily monitored Jerusalem Day march as a component of a larger effort to strengthen Jewish presence in the city, which they believe adversely affects them. Israel, despite lacking international recognition for its annexation of East Jerusalem many years ago, considers the entire city as its capital. Palestinians, on the other hand, aspire to establish their future state with East Jerusalem, the portion captured by Israel in 1967, as its capital, encompassing the West Bank and Gaza.
“Jerusalem, with its Islamic and Christian sanctities, is the eternal capital of the State of Palestine,” Nabil Abu Rudeineh, spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, said in a statement.
On Thursday, Palestinians arranged their own flag marches in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and in Gaza, which is under the rule of Palestinian Islamists. Some of these processions took place very close to the separation fence between Israel and Gaza.
Bassem Naim, a senior Hamas official in Gaza, stated that the group had no intention of escalating the conflict with Israel.
The 2021 march saw Hamas, the governing Islamist group in the blockaded Gaza Strip, launching rockets into Israel, after Israel’s provocations. This incident led to an 11-day war resulting in the deaths of at least 250 Palestinians in Gaza and 13 individuals in Israel.
In recent times, there was a situation where Israeli police conducted a raid in the Al-Aqsa compound, which resulted in rocket fire from various groups in Gaza, Lebanon, and Syria.
In recent years, Hamas has positioned itself as a protector of Palestinians in Jerusalem and the Muslim holy sites. However, considering the recent cessation of hostilities between Israel and Gaza militants, which resulted in the loss of 34 Palestinian lives and one Israeli life, there seemed to be little inclination for further conflict.
Prior to the march, Egypt, the mediator of the Saturday’s ceasefire, engaged in discussions with Israeli and Palestinian factions in an attempt to alleviate tensions.