Israelis March Through Jerusalem, Raising Tensions in a Divided City

Israelis March Through Jerusalem, Raising Tensions in a Divided City

Thousands of Israelis marched through Jerusalem on Thursday to celebrate Israel’s capture of East Jerusalem in 1967, a contentious annual event, known as Jerusalem Day, that regularly stirs tensions in the city between Jews and Palestinians, who see it as a provocation.

Large crowds of Israelis, many of them from ultranationalist groups, walked through the Old City, toward the Western Wall — a remnant of an ancient retaining structure that once surrounded the holiest site in Judaism, the Temple Mount. The parade prompted many Palestinians, who form the overwhelming majority of Old City residents, to shut their shops, in expectation of vandalism and abuse from the marchers.

“May I be avenged on Palestine,” chanted a group of roughly 40 participants, shortly before the parade was formally scheduled to start. “May its name be erased.”

“Death to Arabs,” chanted another, similarly sized group once the march was underway.

Anticipating further unrest, the Israeli police said it had assigned 3,500 police officers to secure the parade and other side events. The Israeli military also braced for possible rocket fire from Palestinian militias in Gaza, who have sometimes launched projectiles in response to the march in the past, most notably at the start of the 11-day war in 2021 between Israel and Hamas.

Arab news media reported that Palestinians held a counter-demonstration along the boundary between the enclave and Israel, where Palestinian rallies have often led to deadly confrontations with the Israeli military.

To many Israelis, the day is an important and festive display of sovereignty in an ancient Jewish capital that for nearly 2,000 years lay outside of Jewish control, and which they still feel unable to completely control. For more than a millennium, the Temple Mount has been a Muslim holy site — the Aqsa Mosque compound — and Jews are technically barred from praying there, even if the police informally let them do so.

But to most Palestinians, the march — known as the Flags Parade — is an offensive and unnecessary expression of dominance in an area that they, and most foreign governments, consider occupied territory. Israel captured East Jerusalem, including the Old City, from Jordan during the Arab-Israeli war of 1967, and Palestinians hope it will one day form the capital of a future Palestinian state.

The anniversary is always tense, but this year the stakes were raised by the unusually prominent involvement of several lawmakers from the government, which is the most ultranationalist and religious in Israel’s history.

Several lawmakers from Likud, the party of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, joined small groups of Jews that toured the Aqsa Mosque compound to mark the day, angering Muslims. Yitzhak Wasserlauf, a far-right cabinet minister, and Ayala Ben-Gvir, the wife of the far-right minister for national security, Itamar Ben-Gvir, also visited the site.

For some hard-line Israelis, these expressions of sovereignty did not go far enough. Some said the thousands of marchers should continue to parade inside the compound, and not just stop at the Western Wall.

“The situation right now — where we have only a wall — is not enough,” said Tom Nissani, the leader of a small far-right group, Beyadeinu, that advocates building a new Jewish temple at the heart of the Aqsa compound.

“One day the temple will be back there, on the same spot,” Mr. Nissani said, after participating in a small side-protest outside the Old City walls. “That’s our right on our land,” he added.

The Israeli police took preventive action against some Jewish extremists, barring a handful from entering the Old City, including Mr. Nissani, who stayed outside its walls after his colleagues passed through them.

But to many Palestinians, these felt like token gestures when juxtaposed with the wider context: a nationalist parade through mainly Palestinian neighborhoods that prompted Palestinian shopkeepers to close, stopped Palestinian residents from freely moving through parts of the city, and led some participants to verbally abuse Arab journalists.

“This day pains me,” said Zaki Sabbah, a Palestinian seller of bread rolls and snacks in the Old City. “This is a city for Jews, Muslims and Christians. So why don’t they close the city on Ramadan or Easter?”

Some Jewish Israelis attempted to set a different tone. A group of leftists briefly blocked a road from the occupied West Bank to Jerusalem, unsuccessfully seeking to stop settler groups from attending the parade. Others distributed flowers to Palestinians in the Muslim quarter of the Old City.

Hiba Yazbek and Myra Noveck contributed reporting.

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