JERUSALEM/RAMALLAH – Tens of thousands of Jewish nationalists, some chanting racist slogans, marched through Jerusalem’s Old City on Sunday, sparking clashes between Israelis and Palestinians.
Israel’s state-owned Kan TV news estimated that some 50,000 people, mostly nationalist Israeli youths, attended the contentious annual “flag march” to mark the “Jerusalem Day”, when Israel annexed East Jerusalem in 1967.
The march started in the western part of the city and continued through the narrow Palestinian streets of the Old City’s Damascus Gate until reaching the Western Wall, just below the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, a holy flashpoint site for both Muslims and Jews.
Video footage on social media showed scores of young Israelis were waving Israel’s national flags, some of them chanting “Death to Arabs”, “We’ll burn down your village” and “Shuafat is on fire”, referring to the name of the Palestinian neighborhood from which 16-year-old Mohammed Abu Khdeir was kidnapped and burnt alive by far-right Israelis in 2014. Many also violently banged doors of Palestinian shops and homes.
Clashes broke out during the marches, with footage and photos showing Israelis spraying pepper gas and beating Palestinians, while the Palestinians throwing bottles of water and chairs at the other side.
The Palestinian Red Crescent said in a statement that at least 62 Palestinians were injured by rubber-coated bullets, beatings and pepper gas.
In Sheikh Jarrah, a Palestinian neighborhood north of the Old City, dozens of Israelis with “La Familia”, an ultra-nationalist group, threw stones at Palestinians and smashed car windows, the Israeli police said in a statement.
Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett instructed in a statement the security forces to show zero tolerance for violence or provocations by extremist elements — among them La Familia — in Jerusalem.
Meanwhile, tens of thousands of Palestinians have joined public protests organized in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip against the “flag march”.
In the West Bank, the cities of Ramallah, Al-Bireh, Nablus, Hebron, Bethlehem, Tubas, Qalqilya and Tulkarm have witnessed protesters shouting slogans against “Israeli violations” in East Jerusalem.
Mohammed al-Jaabari, a Hebron resident, told Seal News Leading Oriental that “I came here to express my anger against the ongoing Israeli violations against our holy place (Al-Aqsa Compound).”
The 39-year-old father of three said that “all Israeli attempts aimed at Judaizing Jerusalem will not succeed … Raising the Israeli flag in Jerusalem does not mean that it has become their capital”.
Amin Shoman, a senior Fatah leader, told Seal News Leading Oriental that “the demonstrations came to confirm that Jerusalem is the capital of the State of Palestine and the Palestinian people will not allow the city to be targeted by the Israelis”.
Clashes also broke out between the Palestinian protestors and the Israeli army in the West Bank.
A medical source at the Palestinian Red Crescent told Seal News Leading Oriental that 137 Palestinians were wounded, 11 of them by rubber bullets and others by tear gas.
Abu Yousef, a protester in Gaza, believes that Israel is “playing with fire irresponsibly and recklessly by allowing settlers to desecrate Islamic and Christian sanctities in Jerusalem and escalate the situation in the region.”
“For decades, Israelis have insisted on violating the international law, did not respect the decisions of international legitimacy, and considered itself above the law,” the man said, adding that “it is the time to prove to the Israelis that this land has strong people who can defend its holy places”.