Tens of thousands of Israelis joined the annual march from the modern downtown area to the Old City in celebration of Jerusalem Day, concluding in a mass gathering in front of the Western Wall on the Temple Mount.
By Erin Viner
The annual event is held to commemorate Israel’s overwhelming victory during the 1967 Six Day War, which culminated in the liberation from Jordan of the eastern side of 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.
While Israel immediately reunified the then-divided city, it was legally annexed by a Knesset vote on 30 July 1980. Israel deems the whole of Jerusalem as its eternal and indivisible capital, and the center of the Jewish faith.
Jewish visitation to the Temple Mount was permitted during 7:00 to 11:30 and between 1:30-2:30 yesterday. They were forbidden to carry religious items or Israeli flags.
Israel has observed a “Status Quo” arrangement that existed prior to the reunification of Jerusalem that bars prayer and unrestricted access by both Jews and Christians on the Temple Mount as to not ‘inflame Muslim anger.’ Religious worship on the al-Aqsa compound is restricted to Muslims, while Jews pray at the Western Wall nearby.
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 most sacred site after Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia.
“Jerusalem, with its Islamic and Christian sanctities, is the eternal capital of the State of Palestine,” declared Nabil Abu Rudeineh, Spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Reviving long term propaganda aimed at inflaming tensions, another Palestinian Authority (PA) official claimed plans by Jews to “storm” al-Aqsa the Mosque compound on Jerusalem Day that he threatened would result in a “big explosion.”
Many Palestinians shopkeepers in the Old City shuttered their businesses during the Jerusalem Day parade. Others organized their own flag marches across the West Bank and in Islamist Hamas controlled Gaza Strip, with some processions only a few hundred meters away from the separation fence with Israel.
Jordan, which has a custodial role over the Muslim and Christian holy sites of Jerusalem, condemned Jewish visitation to the Temple Mount as a provocation that risked escalating tensions.
Last month, an Israeli police raid against violent Palestinians who barricaded themselves within the Al-Aqsa compound drew rocket fire from groups in Gaza, Lebanon and Syria.
Up to 3,500 Israel Police officers and volunteers were deployed throughout Jerusalem to maintain peace, the majority of whom were solely assigned to the parade route.
Police said the force was prepared for all scenarios – amid concern it could spark renewed violence following last week’s cross-border fire with the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) terror group in Gaza. In retaliation of PIJ rocket attacks, Israel launched Operation Shield and Arrow that culminated in a truce after 5 days of fighting, during which one Israeli and 34 Palestinians were killed.
Hamas, which has cast itself as a “defender” of Jerusalem’s Palestinians and Muslim holy sites in recent years, held back from entering the latest conflict.
Despite a statement from senior Hamas official Bassem Naim yesterday that the group was not interested in an escalation of conflict with Israel, local Arab media reported that just the day previously Hamas political bureau Salah al-Bardawil threatened that “the march of the Zionist flags will not pass, and the response will inevitably come.”
Moreover, a post on social media by the Hamas military wing, Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades, read: “the Sword of Jerusalem will not be sheathed” against a backdrop of rockets and the al-Aqsa Mosque, referring to the term used by Palestinian terrorists who attacked Israel on Jerusalem Day in 2021. A heavy missile barrage fired at Israel by both Hamas and the PIJ sparked the 11-day Operation Guardian of the Walls conflict that claimed the lives of 13 people in the Jewish State and at least 250 Palestinians in the Strip.
Last year’s event was marred by violence when Palestinians launched fireworks and hurled chairs at police from the al-Aqsa Mosque, and nationalist Israeli activists fought with residents of the Old City’s Muslim Quarter.
Contrary to previous years, however, this year’s parade ended with no major security incidents. “Disturbances and manifestations of violence of any kind will be dealt with decisively by the police forces,” Jerusalem District Police Chief Superintendent Yoram Segal stated ahead of the event.
Egypt, which mediated last Saturday’s truce, spoke to Israeli and Palestinian factions ahead of the march in efforts to reduce tensions.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he had ordered the march to go ahead despite security concerns.
“Despite the threats – and I would say because of the threats – I directed that the flag march be held with the participation of thousands, properly and along its customary route,” said the Israeli leader.
Going on to address Operation Shield and Arrow, he said, “We dealt heavy blows on those who attacked us in the Gaza Strip and I believe that the message was received and not just by them, but in other places in our region as well, that saw the impressive operational capabilities of the State of Israel.
The Israeli leader then underscored, “And if an additional reminder proves necessary to restore deterrence – it will also come. We have changed the equation.”
In a separate special statement entitled “Jerusalem Day Greetings,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said:
“Citizens of Israel, on Jerusalem Day we again raise Jerusalem above our highest joy [see Psalms 137:6]. However, the truth is that our people have done this day in day out, year in year out, for hundreds of years: ‘Next year in Jerusalem.’
Indeed, we have returned to our country.
By the middle of the19th century, there was already a Jewish majority in Jerusalem. Of course, it took another 100 years until we established our state with Jerusalem as our official capital. It took another 19 years until that fateful day in 1967, when we liberated Jerusalem and reunited it. We reunited it. It broke new horizons. It became a city, a giant metropolis in Israel. We are building it up. We are building in it and we are allowing all of its residents better lives in our eternal capital.
We are committed to safeguarding the security of Jerusalem, to ensuring its prosperity and to continuing its momentum. We are also doing this against all of the threats around us, most recently in Operation Shield and Arrow, but constantly. While the threats are certainly not ceasing, our ability to deal confront our enemies, repel them and ensure our security in Jerusalem and throughout our state is a constant struggle; together we can win.
This is also a splendid day on which to celebrate our return to our eternal capital, which has been our capital for over 3,000 years. There has been nothing like this in the world but it is here, in the center of our world, Jerusalem.
Happy Jerusalem Day.”