Jerusalem march reveals young Israelis who are lost to extremism

The sense of impunity on display was made possible by political figures who promote a supremacist agenda of unending conflict

Young ultranationalist Israelis were among those who participated in the Flag March. Their actions are a symptom of the radicalisation that has taken root in Israeli society. AFP
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Perhaps the most arresting image from Wednesday’s provocative so-called Flag March in Jerusalem was that of Palestinian journalist Saif Al Qawasmi being assaulted by a crowd of ultranationalist Israelis, many of whom were barely in their teens. Hours later, an Israeli air strike on a UN-run school sheltering displaced Palestinians in central Gaza killed up to 45 people, many of them children. Confronted by such scenes, one cannot help but wonder what the future holds for the next generation of Palestinians and Israelis lost in a sea of violence.

The young Israelis who went on a rampage through Jerusalem’s Muslim Quarter yesterday should be held accountable for their actions. But they are a symptom of the radicalisation that has taken root in Israeli society. The impunity shown by these youths as they chanted racist slogans, hurled missiles and lashed out at Palestinian bystanders, reporters and peace activists is enabled by Israeli political figures who promote a supremacist agenda of unending conflict.

Although Israeli police arrested five people and issued a statement condemning “lawless aggressors” for the “vile and unacceptable shouts heard from their mouths”, the reality is they permitted the demonstration to go ahead amid such a combustible atmosphere and despite Flag Day marches’ proven history of incitement – the one that took place in 2021 helped to spark 11 days of fighting between Israel and Hamas. This year, one of the march’s loudest cheerleaders was the very man to whom Israel’s police answer, National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir. The power ultranationalism now wields in the Israeli government is clear, along with the weakening of the institutions responsible for controlling it.

The belligerence on display in Jerusalem calls into question Israel’s narrative that it is “the real victim” in its conflict with Palestinians. It is true that the country is still reeling from the trauma its people suffered when Hamas militants murdered more than 1,200 people and kidnapped hundreds more on October 7. But attacks such as that on Al Sardi school far exceed any security concerns.

Many Israeli leaders appear unwilling or unable to see that such strikes, as well as decades of military occupation, will make peace that much more difficult to attain. This short-sightedness is compounded by the fact that more air strikes on schools – as well as hospitals and residential areas – produce additional evidence of the crimes committed in Gaza. Likewise, Hamas’s refusal to release civilian hostages and its military leadership insisting on continued fighting also make peace increasingly difficult to attain.

This myopia cannot continue. By allowing extremists to threaten Jerusalem- especially as East Jerusalem is internationally recognised as occupied- the Israeli authorities ensure that any stability that remains will be highly precarious. Meanwhile, Hamas’s backers fan the flames of extremism. This is not a status quo upon which to build a lasting peace. Similarly, Israel pursuing an aimless campaign of collective punishment in Gaza guarantees more conflict in the future. Young Palestinians and Israelis alike deserve better than this.

Published: June 07, 2024, 3:00 AM