Jerusalem Day - Reuters - 1.6.11
Border policemen securing an alley as Israeli youth march on their way to the Western Wall during Jerusalem Day celebrations on June 1, 2011. Photo by Reuters
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Twenty-four people, Jews and Palestinians, were arrested yesterday during the traditional Jerusalem Day Rikud Degalim flag procession, which saw isolated instances of racist epithets, fistfights and stone-throwing.

Tens of thousands of marchers, most of them from the religious-Zionist community, participated in the event, making their way from the Sheikh Jarrah area through Jerusalem's Old City to the Western Wall.

The overwhelming majority of participants were orderly - marching, dancing and singing songs of Jerusalem. But a few hundred exploited the event, committing acts of hooliganism and violence.

Several youths who were carrying flags of Kiryat Arba and Hebron called out nationalist and racist slogans while marching through the Old City's Muslim Quarter, including "Death to the Arabs" and "The Temple will be rebuilt and the mosque burned."

All the stores on the Muslim Quarter's main streets were closed, but the passing youths banged their flagpoles hard into the barred doors and windows, and in one case broke a window.

There were violent altercations at two spots: At the start of the march in Sheikh Jarrah, right-wing activists assaulted left-wingers who had come to show support for the Palestinians. During the fisticuffs that ensued, police arrested two left-wing activists.

In the area of Damascus Gate, Jewish youths threw stones at Palestinians, who responded in kind. Two people were lightly hurt and treated by Magen David Adom. Stone-throwers on both sides were arrested.

Jerusalem Deputy Mayor David Hadari (National Union-NRP ) attributed the disturbances to a very small group.

"There were 50,000 people, of whom three called out, 'Death to the Arabs.' That's serious, and it's not right. But compare it to the 50,000, who all go to the army and are all Zionists and were all singing 'Bring joy to Jerusalem and rejoice within her.' Where's the proportion?"

In remarks to the Knesset yesterday on the occasion of Jerusalem Day, Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin bemoaned the neglect of the capital's Arab neighborhoods. "We promised a united Jerusalem but we failed to deliver," he said, citing numerous projects that benefit the city's Jewish population.

"We built the City of David, established Ma'aleh Hazeitim, salvaged the Hurva Synagogue from ruin, but what have we done for Ras al Amud?" he asked, referring to the Arab neighborhood in East Jerusalem. "What have we done for the children living in East Jerusalem who can't find a school that will have them?"

While the Knesset speaker highlighted the disparities between the Jewish and Arab parts of the city, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised the momentum of development in the city, saying that it was possible thanks to the city's reunification.

"Something is really happening in Jerusalem," Netanyahu said, praising the city's mayor, Nir Barkat, who attended the Knesset session. The prime minister noted that 14 Knesset members were not even born in 1967 when the city was reunited during the Six-Day War, and 50 MKs were under 10 years old at the time.

At a Jerusalem Day ceremony at the site of a key battle for the city, Ammunition Hill, the prime minister said Jerusalem would not be redivided, and recalled his childhood in the city in which Jewish neighborhoods in West Jerusalem were targeted by weapons fire from the east.

In his Knesset speech yesterday, Netanyahu said for years there was talk of people leaving the city, its transportation problems and its dearth of cultural institutions and places of employment. "These things are changing," he noted.

The prime minister made special mention of economic initiatives in the capital and transportation improvements, including the project to connect the city via fast train service to Tel Aviv. The train service will link up to Jerusalem's light rail network, which is to begin service shortly.

Netanyahu also made reference to a new biotechnology park being built at Hadassah University Hospital.

"We are building in the neighborhoods," the prime minister said. "Not just Jewish ones, but also Arab ones. They deserve it. There are not enough schools. I believe all these changes are essential to ensure the future of Jerusalem.

"We are accustomed to talking about the past, but we need to welcome what is being done today for the future. We believe Jerusalem is quickly becoming an international city," the prime minister said.

Opposition leader Tzipi Livni (Kadima ) called Jerusalem a special city that could be a magnet for young people if they could find work and housing and other amenities. She promised to support efforts to address these issues.