Clashes erupted between leftist activists and participants of the annual Flag March in Jerusalem, celebrating the 50th anniversary of the "unification" of the city in the Six-Day War, a day marked as Jerusalem Day.
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Police say some 60 thousand people are participating in the march, the highest participation rate in the event ever.
Hundreds of leftist activists and Palestinians are protesting the march, calling for an end to hatred, violence and for the promotion of a peaceful settlement for all the city's residents.
Following the clashes, police forcibly removed activists, journalists and Palestinians at the Plaza outside the Old City's Damascus Gate.
The organization IfNotNow said in a press release that some 50 of its anti-occupation activists from around the world participated in an act of civil disobedience, protesting the march and were violently dispersed by police. Some of the protesters were injured, the group said.
"I'm here because it's important to show that there is a difference between supporting Israel and supporting the occupation," said leftist protester Nina Morris-Evans. "When the police clears the area to let them march and shout 'Death to Arabs,' I cannot identify with the Jewish people."
Earlier, the High Court of Justice was asked to overturn the police decision to allow the Flag March to go through a predominantly Arab part of the city. The left-wing activist group Ir Amim submitted its petition over what it called the “bizarre decision” by the police to allow some of the marchers to surround the Old City and enter through Dung Gate. In the past decade, the police have refused to let marchers take this route for fear of clashes with Palestinian residents.
The petition argued that District Commander Yoram Halevy’s decision will be bad for Muslim residents and traders in the Old City, who will be “besieged from all directions.” In addition, it will also make driving between the north and south of the city impossible. Among other things, Palestinians will be prevented from being able to travel between the commercial Salah a-Din area and their homes, the petition stated.
As the march was taking place the court rejected the injunction, saying that it is up to the police to do its part and take action against violent participants.
Ir Amim has been protesting the Jerusalem Day flag march for many years. It has also complained about the feeble police response to demonstrations of racism and incitement. Last year, the High Court also slammed the police for their inaction.
Long lines of Jews wanting to visit the Temple Mount formed at the site on Wednesday morning. In the courtyard by the Al Aqsa mosque and the Dome of the Rock, a confrontation developed between Waqf guards (the Muslim authority in charge of the area) and a group of young Jews who prostrated themselves. Some Jews were forcibly taken away and held for questioning by the police.
Because of the significance of this year’s Jerusalem Day – in addition to the usual tensions and provocations that have accompanied the parade in previous years – security is particularly heavy, aiming to keep the marchers and Palestinians separate.
Some left-wing organizations are also planning counterdemonstrations during the flag march. Tag Meir, a non-profit anti-racism group, plans to hand out flowers to Palestinian passers-by at Damascus Gate, while Free Jerusalem members will be demonstrating against the procession.
MK Ayman Odeh, chairman of the Arab Joint List party, said "For 50 years now the residents of East Jerusalem are living under occupation, without basic human rights, in socio-economic conditions that are only deteriorating."
"In the 50th year of the occupation it is clearer than ever that there are two options – ending the occupation and establishing a Palestinian state or an Apartheid state. There is no other option," Odeh added.
Meanwhile, the annual memorial for casualties of the Six-Day War was scheduled to take place on Mount Herzl at noon. A state ceremony marking Jerusalem Day will be held Wednesday evening, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Reuven Rivlin in attendance at Ammunition Hill.
Various events are also taking place during the day, including the Families March at Mesila Park and building a Lego city of Jerusalem in Davidka Square.
Among the roads set to be closed to traffic from 3-9 P.M. are Bezalel, King George, Keren Hayesod, Agron, Yitzhak Kariv, King David, Hativat Yerushalayim and Derech Hebron, from Miriam the Hasmonean Street.