An upcoming Jerusalem Day flag procession organized by religious Zionist groups will march through the Muslim quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City, Haaretz learned on Tuesday, despite the fact that last year’s march was marked by violence and racist incidents.
The procession, which boasts tens of thousands of participants, has begun passing through Jerusalem streets and culminates at the Western Wall Plaza, in an effort to commemorate the reunification of Jerusalem in 1967.
In recent years, the procession has become a show of defiance against Palestinians and residents of East Jerusalem. Last year, tensions came to a head as 24 youths, both Jewish and Palestinian, were arrested in conjunction with violent clashes.
Tensions over last year's march reached their zenith, however, as hundreds of youth shouted slogans like “death to Arabs,” and “Mohammed is dead,” along with other racist slogans, while marching through the narrow Muslim Quarter streets. The event’s organizers renounced and condemned the phenomenon, stating that the slogans and songs were the actions of only a handful of participants.
This week, procession’s organizers submitted a parade course similar to that of the previous year, with a route including Sheikh Jarrah, the Damascus Gate and the Muslim Quarter.
At first, Jerusalem Police rejected the plan, demanding that the procession take place mostly in Jerusalem's westen part, suggesting a course from the city center through the Jaffa Gate and to the Western Wall Plaza. Procession organizers protested the proposition, accusing the police of supporting a divided Jerusalem.
"In this case, the Police are taking a dangerous position the issue of a divided Jerusalem, that teaches children that the Jews belong in the western part of the city and not in the eastern,” wrote David Hadari, Deputy Mayor of Jerusalem, of the National Religious Party, to Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch.
Two days ago, Jerusalem Police backtracked on their demands and agreed to let the procession march through the Damascus Gate and the Muslim Quarter.
According to the approved route, the group of girls will march from the city center to the Jaffa Gate, while the boy’s group will march through the Damascus Gate. In exchange for approval of the route, event organizers pledged to have ushers on scene to keep order and prevent events similar to last year.
“I am glad that the police permitted the route, and understood that we must present a unified Jerusalem,” said Hadari on Monday. “I want to point out that 50,000 people marched last year, and only a few acted disrespectfully or inappropriately, and we must not tarnish the whole public because of a handful of people.”
The “Tag Meir Forum,” an umbrella organization for groups against the violent, right-wing “price tag” attacks, recently petitioned the Jerusalem Police and Municipality to steer the route of the procession out of Arab neighborhoods.
“We think that to march through an Arab neighborhood while singing songs of vengeance is no worse than ‘price tag’ attacks, we’re worried about the procession in the Muslim Quarter, and hope everyone behaves responsibly,” said a representative of the organization.
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