image Photo: Flash90

Clashes erupt on Jerusalem Day

Palestinians in Jerusalem and the West Bank protested Israeli celebration of the annual holiday.

By Jonathan Hessen and Erin Viner

An estimated 70,000 Israelis and their supporters participated in the yearly Flag March in Jerusalem yesterday to mark the 55th anniversary of the city’s reunification.

The annual flag march is a national holiday that celebrates Israel’s overwhelming victory during the 1967 Middle East war, which culminated in the liberation of then-Jordanian-held east Jerusalem where the ancient city of David and the Temple Mount are located. The Temple Mount is considered by the Jewish People as the holiest site in the world, also revered to Christians.

The Islamist Hamas rulers of Gaza, Iranian-proxy terror factions of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) in the Strip and Hezbollah in Lebanon had levelled separate threats to launch missile attacks on Israel if any Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem were “desecrated.”  Hezbollah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah threatened there would be “an explosion in the region” if Israel “violated” Muslim holy sites in the Old City.

A record-breaking 2,600 Jews nevertheless toured the Temple Mount esplanade ahead of the parade, said Jerusalem police. Palestinians had tried to prevent the visits by hurling rocks, barricading themselves within the Al-Aqsa Mosque and setting off fireworks at riot police, who responded with crowd-dispersal methods including stun grenades.

While the vast majority of those participating in the parade did so peacefully, clashes erupted at a number of flashpoints which police attributed to instigation by Islamist activists and two radical Jewish organizations, Lehava and La Familia.

More than 60 suspects were arrested by police forces during various incidents for alleged rioting, rock throwing and physical assault on the Temple Mount, adjacent areas in the Old City and nearby neighborhoods. Thirteen people were lightly injured and material damaged was also reported.

Israel deems the whole of Jerusalem as its eternal and indivisable capital, and the center of the Jewish faith.

Palestinians demand the eastern section as a capital of a future state. Muslims, who built the Dome of the Rock and Al-Aqsa Mosque atop the ruins of the  biblical temples refer to the contested area as Haram al Sharif, or the Noble Sanctuary, regarded as Islam’s third holiest place.

Denouncing the Jewish visit, Islamic cleric Sheikh Ikrima Sabri was cited by Reuters as saying “what happened today at (the nearby) Al-Aqsa Mosque hasn’t taken place since 1967.”

Palestinians view Sunday’s march as part of a broader campaign to bolster Jewish presence across the city, the eastern sector of which they demand as the capital of a future state.

Hamas, which has cast itself as “a defender of Muslim Jerusalem,” condemned Sunday’s mass visit. “The Israeli government is fully responsible for all these reckless policies and the following consequences,” said senior Hamas official Bassem Naim.

Palestinian rioters also confronted Israeli security forces across the West Bank. Over 160 rioters sustained injuries according to Palestinian sources. There were no reported IDF casualties.

During a celebratory meeting of his Cabinet, Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett reiterated his call for all parade participants to behave “responsibly and in a respectful manner.” He went on to thank the Israel Police for securing all of the day’s events.

“55 years ago, IDF soldiers liberated the Old City and re-unified Jerusalem,” said the Premier, describing the event as having “united the entire nation in one moment.”

In a later statement, the Premier thanked Public Security Minister Omer Bar-Lev, Israeli Police Commissioner Yaakov “Kobi” Shabtai, Jerusalem District Police Commander Doron Turgeman, the Israel Police senior command and all law and order personnel “for their successful and efficient management of the flag parade in Jerusalem and their efforts to maintain public order.”

Defending his government’s refusal to cancel or re-route the parade in the face of Islamist threats, the Israeli leader emphasized that, “The event was very significant because if we hadn’t done it along the regular route, we would – in effect – never go back to it. This could have been a retreat on sovereignty. Thanks to the quiet determination of all of us, we strengthened sovereignty and governance and set the record straight that in the State of Israel we will operate based on what is right and not based on threats. Except for an extremist group, whom we will deal with to the fullest extent of the law, those who celebrated yesterday did so in a very special, heart-lifting way. Thank you and all security service personnel who stood on guard.”

While addressing a state memorial for troops who fell during the Six Day War, Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz quoted late Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, who served as the IDF Chief of Staff during the conflict.

“‘I felt the sources of power, both moral and spiritual, of the IDF – the army of a nation that wants peace yet knows to fight fiercely when war is forced upon it. This is an army that unveils the good and beauty of the nation at times of distress and emergency; this is an army that shows unparalleled combat capability all-the-while safeguarding, also during the storm of battle, its human form,’” said Minister Gantz, adding that the words remain just as relevant 55 years later.

“Yes, also today, we want peace and know to fight fiercely if war is forced upon us. And also, in our war on terror we safeguard our human form. And also today, here in Jerusalem, we remain determined that everyone will have the right to live in security,” he said.

Jerusalem’s top defense official continued by stressing Israel’s resolve to guarantee the security and freedoms of all of its residents.

“The State of Israel vigilantly safeguards the rights of the Muslim residents, too – in accordance with the law and political arrangements with our neighbors – including the ‘Status Quo’ and freedom of worship. In tandem, we safeguard the rights of Jews to march to the Western Wall and to celebrate Jerusalem Day – and I hope and call to do so  – with the upmost respect. We will not enable provocations from one side, and we will not allow any harm to our sovereignty and the security of our citizens and will respond with force against terror and violence if necessary,” said Minister Gantz.

Gaza terror groups including the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) fired a barrage of rockets into Israel last year as the 2021 march got underway, triggering the 11-day war, Operation Guardian of the Walls.