About 5,000 right-wing activists waving Israeli flags marched through Jerusalem’s Old City on Tuesday evening in the first major security test for the new government, but despite a rise in tensions the march passed off without major disturbances.
Some 2,000 police deployed in and around the Old City in occupied East Jerusalem to prevent clashes after Palestinian groups declared a day of rage against what they perceived as an Israeli provocation in the disputed holy city.
Isolated incidents occurred and more than 20 Palestinians were lightly hurt as police dispersed Palestinian protesters who were kept away from the Damascus Gate area.
The event was a challenge for new prime minister Naftali Bennett, who was sworn in on Sunday night.
Despite threats by Hamas in Gaza that it would respond if the march took place, Israel’s new public security minister Omer Bar-Lev, from the left-wing Labour party, decided that the event could go ahead.
“I am under the impression that the police are well prepared and that a great effort has been made to maintain the delicate fabric of life, and public safety,” he said.
The United Arab List (UAL), also known as Ra’am, the first Arab party to formally join an Israeli coalition, categorically condemned the decision to hold the parade.
The march is “an unbridled provocation, the essence of which is shouts of hatred and incitement to violence and an attempt to set the area on fire for political purposes”, said UAL leader Mansour Abbas.
In an effort to reduce tension, the march was not allowed to proceed through the Old City’s Muslim quarter. After the marchers gathered outside the Damascus Gate entrance to the Muslim quarter, they proceeded outside the Old City to the Jaffa Gate, which lies on the dividing between the Christian and Armenian quarters, and from there marched through the narrow alleyways of the Old City towards the Western Wall.
‘Don’t need permission’
The flag march was organised by a number of right-wing groups. Knesset member Itamar Ben-Gvir from the extreme right Religious Zionist party took part in the march. “We don’t need permission by Hamas or Islamic Jihad to march in Israel’s capital,” he said.
Muhammad Hamada, spokesman for Hamas’s Jerusalem branch which operates out of the Gaza Strip, said that Egyptian mediators asked the armed Palestinian factions not to escalate the situation over the flag march, but, he said: “We promise that all possibilities are open to us.”
Although there was no rocket fire towards Israel, some 20 fires broke out in southern Israel caused by incendiary balloons launched from Gaza.
The flag march was originally scheduled for Jerusalem Day last month, the day when Israel marks the capture of East Jerusalem from Jordan during the 1967 Six-Day war. Its route was diverted due to security concerns as clashes between police and Palestinians in the city intensified.
Shortly after it began, it was dispersed when Gaza militants fired a rocket salvo towards Jerusalem, precipitating the 11-day Gaza war in which more than 250 people were killed, the vast majority of them in Gaza.