Tensions High Ahead of Polarizing Jerusalem Day March

March will pass through Muslim quarter of Jerusalem's Old City, after petition by left-wing groups to change its route was rejected by the High Court of Justice.

Tali Mayer

Jerusalem Day will be celebrated Sunday, 48 years after unification of the city. In the afternoon, a flag-bearing march held by national-religious elements will pass through the Muslim quarter of the Old City, after a petition by left-wing groups to change its route was rejected by the High Court of Justice.

The last few days have seen a big effort by rabbis, police commanders and organizers of the march to persuade participants to abstain from violence, which characterized such events in previous years. Hundreds of policemen are expected to secure the march, while leftist activists from an organization called “Jerusalem Won’t Tolerate Racism” are planning a demonstration opposing the march of flags. 

The police announced that it would show “zero tolerance for any exhibition of verbal or physical violence and would use all methods at its disposal against anyone creating a disturbance or breaking the law.” The march will force merchants in the Muslim quarter to close their shops at noon and most residents will have to remain indoors.Traffic disruptions are expected throughout the city.

During the afternoon, the light rail train will operate only on a partial basis. Due to a state ceremony on Ammunition Hill, all traffic in that area [around Ramat Eshkol-Ma’alot Dafna] will be blocked. Disruptions are also expected in the Nabi Samuel area, due to festivities around the tomb of the Prophet Samuel.

Jerusalem demographic stats released

The Jerusalem Municipality and the Jerusalem Institute for Israel Studies have published some statistics related to the city, two years ahead of the fiftieth anniversary of its unification. According to the Jerusalem Institute, updated to the end of 2013, Jerusalem has 829,900 inhabitants. Of these, 522,200 (63%) are Jewish and other non-Arabs, whereas 307,600 (37%) are Arabs. Of the Jews, 34% declared themselves to be ultra-Orthodox, 30% are religious, and 36% are secular or ‘traditional’.

The municipality noted the gradual increase in the number of pupils in the secular and national-religious school systems for the fourth year in a row, after a decade and a half of decline. The ultra-Orthodox still comprise a large majority (61%) of pupils in the Jewish sector.

Last week, Mayor Nir Barkat publicized a five-year plan meant to stimulate economic growth in the city. The plan was developed with the help of a team of American experts which included Michael Bloomberg, the former mayor of New York, as well as Prof. Michael Porter and Prof. Richard from Florida. The plan includes investments in film studios, developing an artist quarter in the city’s center and investments in infrastructure. “Jerusalem is in the midst of a renewal process that will peak in 2020 – we’ll continue developing and advancing the capital. Happy Jerusalem Day” said Barkat.

In contrast, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel released some harsh figures concerning residents of East Jerusalem. The numbers show a 75% poverty rate among the general population with a 84% rate among children. There is a continuing shortage of a thousand classrooms, with a 33% dropout rate in the final year of high school. Residents of East Jerusalem continue to suffer from a lack of basic infrastructure such as water and sewage and from discrimination in the provision of municipal services.

The not-for-profit organization Ir Amim reports that despite declarations by politicians that they are committed to continue building in Jerusalem, the last six months have seen a slowing in construction for Jews in East Jerusalem. Only 133 tenders have been issued since the beginning of this year, most of them having been already issued in previous years. In contrast, the first half of 2014 saw 2,627 such tenders.