City Hall Triples Budget for Jerusalem Day 'Flag March' Through Muslim Quarter

Annual parade marking reunification of city in 1967 could fall on first day of Ramadan; survey shows majority of Jewish public opposes march going through Muslim Quarter.

Last year's Jerusalem Day march, near the Muslim Quarter of the Old City.
Olivier Fitoussi

The Jerusalem municipality has decided to triple its budget for the annual flag march held on Jerusalem Day by the religious Zionist movement. The parade, as usual, is set to pass through the Muslim Quarter of the Old City, and be held on what is likely to be the first evening of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

Every year for the past few years, dozens of cases have been documented of teens on the march banging on doors and windows in the Muslim Quarter with their flag poles, cursing Palestinian pedestrians and making racist remarks.

The city’s decision to increase its financial support for the parade has come under intense public criticism.

As in years past, this year right-wing organizations are planning the parade, which will cross Jerusalem with tens of thousands of young people, almost all of them Orthodox, participating.

Boys and girls are to march separately. The route of the boys’ march will take them through Damascus Gate and the Muslim Quarter, ending at the Western Wall. Store owners along the route are required to close their shops for a few hours while the march is passing, and most of the inhabitants of the Muslim Quarter remain in their homes.

Last year the Ir Amim organization petitioned the High Court of Justice against the route of the march through the Muslim Quarter because of security tensions. The court rejected the petition, but instructed police to take action against any racist acts. “The time has come for zero tolerance for [calls of] ‘death to Arabs,’ which has become an expression that has gone below the radar. Zero tolerance, including detention, arrest and indictment,” the justices wrote.

This year, in addition to the usual tensions, the evening the march is to be held will probably be the first evening of the holy month of Ramadan, which is a particularly festive occasion for Muslims, when people decorate their homes and go out to visit family and friends.

However, according to Muslim tradition, Muslim religious leaders will declare when the month is to begin only about 24 hours beforehand.

A broad front has come together to oppose the march passing through the Muslim Quarter. Tamir Nir, Aharon Leibovich and Itai Gutler, members of the Yerushalmim faction on the City Council, have called on the police to change the route, as have members of the non-violence forum Tag Me’ir.

However, right-wing council members want the route to remain as planned. “Changing the route of the march is a prize to everyone who wants to hurt sovereignty in Jerusalem,” City Councilman Moshe Lion, a member of Mayor Nir Barkat’s coalition, stated.

Deputy Mayor Hagit Moshe a member of Habayit Hayehudi, who represents the right-wing Jerusalem United faction on the City Council and holds the municipal finance portfolio, decided on the increased funding, from 100,000 shekels ($26,000), to 300,000 shekels.

“This is an event of unprecedented size in Jerusalem. Last year there were 60,000 marchers. The Muslim Quarter also has residents who understand that we are celebrating Jerusalem’s holiday and there must be tolerance in both directions. The more criticism there is, the more we will increase the budget and the number of young people participating,” she said.

A survey commissioned by Ir Amim among 400 Jewish Jerusalemites showed that most of the Jewish public is opposed to the march going through the Muslim Quarter if it does fall on the beginning of Ramadan. According to the survey, 58 percent of those polled were in favor of the march, but only 43 percent approved of it passing through the Muslim Quarter. After it was explained that the march might be held on the first evening of Ramadan, support for it passing through the Muslim Quarter declined to 33 percent.

“The proximity of the march this year to Ramadan makes it a particularly difficult because the residents of the Muslim Quarter will not be able to prepare for their most important holiday. That is a violent and aggressive act, which has the potential to lead to renewed violence. The residents of the Muslim Quarter are not a ‘trial balloon’ of the good intensions of the police or the marchers. The police must avoid a gamble and announce ahead of time that the march will not go through the Muslim Quarter this year.”