Five far-right Israelis arrested on Flag March in Jerusalem

Tens of thousands participated in the annual march

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Ultranationalist Israelis clashed with Palestinians as they marched through Jerusalem's most sensitive area on Wednesday, with thousands of police sent on to the streets for the contentious Flag Day march.

Tens of thousands participated in the annual march, which has been promoted by Israel's far right and has previously been a flash point between marchers and the city's Palestinian residents.

One extremist chanted “no more Al Aqsa, no more children in Gaza” as the crowds moved through the Muslim Quarter, after hundreds of Israelis visited Al Aqsa compound and waved flags earlier in the day.

Violence broke out as extremists wearing white shirts attacked journalists, with bottles thrown from the crowd.

Jerusalem Day is the most racist day on the Israeli calendar, because it touches the most sacred and sensitive issue for Palestinians: Al Aqsa Mosque
Sami Abu Shehadeh, chairman, Balad political party

In response, Israeli police said they detained provocateurs people who threw objects at the press near the Damascus Gate.

"We strongly condemn any attempt to harm journalists and media personnel carrying out their duties, as well as any other individuals," the police said in a statement.

"These lawless aggressors disrupt all participants in the parade, both through their violent behaviour and through the vile and unacceptable shouts heard from their mouths," the police said in a strongly worded condemnation.

Earlier in the day, Israeli police were seen attacking Palestinian shopkeepers in the Muslim Quarter, while a Palestinian journalist in a flak jacket was surrounded by a mob of men and attacked. He required medical attention.

Other journalists, including The National's correspondents, were also met with a heavy-handed response from police officers.

The march – part of Jerusalem Day celebrations, an Israeli public holiday to mark the moment Israel fully occupied Jerusalem in 1967 – led to 11 days of fighting between Israel and Hamas in 2021.

On Wednesday, it began in the afternoon, following a route through Damascus Gate towards the Western Wall.

Despite fears that tension over the Gaza war could make the day more volatile, Israeli authorities said on Tuesday that the march would proceed.

Police said more than 3,000 personnel were deployed in the city on Wednesday.

Far-right National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir promised to join the march and that “Jews will go up to [Al Aqsa Mosque]”.

“We need to hit them where it's most important to them,” he said.

An incursion on the site, the third holiest in Islam, is considered a provocation by Palestinians, more so if it involves a government minister.

Hundreds of Israelis were seen in Al Aqsa on Wednesday morning, with some performing Jewish prayers.

Crowds entered Al Aqsa's courtyard under police protection, the official Palestinian Wafa news agency reported. Groups "performed Talmudic rituals" in the courtyard, it added, with some reports suggesting up to 500 people visited the site.

Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, UAE Minister of Foreign Affairs, and his Jordanian counterpart Ayman Safadi, issued a joint statement condemning the "Israeli incursions into the Al Aqsa Mosque" on Wednesday.

They also denounced the "Israeli government's permission for the so-called flag march in occupied Jerusalem".

Despite fears of violence in the aftermath of October 7, Jerusalem had remained relatively quiet throughout the Gaza war.

It is suffering from the effects of the conflict, particularly the Old City which is home to many Palestinians and Palestinian businesses that have been hit hard by a lack of visitors.

Analysts told The National on Tuesday that a flash point on Wednesday could lead to uncontrolled escalations, with one speaking of the potential for “regional war”.

Last year’s Flag March took place with relatively few clashes, after many Palestinians chose to avoid going out in public amid fears of violence and a heavy Israeli police presence.

Extremists attacked journalists, throwing sticks and glass bottles.

Sami Abu Shehadeh, a Palestinian citizen of Israel and chairman of the opposition party Balad, said Jerusalem Day is “the most racist day on the Israeli calendar, because it touches the most sacred and sensitive issue for Palestinians: Al Aqsa Mosque”.

He believes far-right politicians in the current government, particularly Mr Ben-Gvir, want the day to lead to regional war.

“Ben-Gvir is a pyromaniac and a very dangerous man for Israelis, Palestinians and the Middle East,” Mr Abu Shehadeh said.

“I wish Itamar Ben-Gvir was the only issue. The problem is he’s a minister in the Israeli government, within which you don’t find anyone attacking his dangerous, racist behaviour. It gives you a feeling that there is a consensus on racism and provocation.”

Updated: June 06, 2024, 3:50 AM