Israeli Police Consider Restricting Zionist Youth March in Muslim Quarter for Jerusalem Day

Tens of thousands of Palestinian residents and visitors are in the Old City during the final days of Ramadan, and the parade is expected to cause serious disruptions

FILE PHOTO: Jerusalem Day Flag Parade walking through Damascus Gate in the Jerusalem Old City, 2016.
Olivier Fitoussi

The police are considering limiting the scope and route of the annual Jerusalem Day flag march, which falls on the Ramadan this year. The parade, in which tens of thousands of religious Zionist youth march through the streets of the Muslim Quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City, has frequently sparked tension and sometimes provided a forum for blatant racism and incitement.

The police’s stance comes in response to a petition to the High Court of Justice by prominent Jerusalemites and the Ir Amim NGO, who warn that the parade is likely to disrupt the lives of Muslim Quarter residents and tens of thousands of Muslim worshippers who customarily visit the Temple Mount during the final days of Ramadan.

The police said they are considering prohibiting the marchers from circling the Old City, limiting the gates through which they are allowed to enter, and restricting the number of marchers and the duration of the parade. The flag march – which has been held for the past 30 years on Jerusalem Day – has been a focus of tension in Jerusalem in recent years. Up until recently, it also included expressions of racism, incitement and violence against Palestinians, including cries of “Death to the Arabs,” as well as vandalism to Palestinian property.

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Due to past petitions by Ir Amim and criticism of the police by the Supreme Court justices, the organizers and the police increased supervision of the parade, which resulted in a relatively calm procession over the past two years. But the parade imposes restrictions on movement for Palestinian residents and the closing of certain streets and neighborhoods in the Muslim Quarter. This is the first time that the march will coincide with the last 10 days of the Muslim Ramadan holiday.

“The passage of the parade in the Muslim Quarter during the Ramadan holiday and fast is like allowing Muslims to hold a political parade in the Jewish Quarter during the Yom Kippur fast,” says the petition, filed by Dr. Elan Ezrachi, Prof. Rachel Elior, journalist Eliezer Yaari, director of the Jerusalem Season of Culture Naomi Fortis, Prof. Alice Shalvi and others, through the NGO, Ir Amim.

According to the petitioners’ claim, supported by expert opinion, tens of thousands of Palestinian residents and visitors stay in the Muslim Quarter and the Temple Mount during the final days of Ramadan, and the parade is expected to cause serious disruptions to Muslim believers and financial damage to commerce on the holiday.

The route of the march passes from West Jerusalem to Tzahal Square, where it splits according to gender – the girls march via Jaffa Gate and the Jewish Quarter and the boys via Damascus Gate and the Muslim Quarter. In the past two years some of the boys were allowed to encircle the Old City from the north and east.

In its response the state claimed that the police had yet to decide on the route. But the police will consider preventing the circling of the Old City, and limiting the number of marchers permitted to enter via the Muslim Quarter.

“The Israel Police intends to provide an operational-professional solution to maintain the rights of all the parties,” said the state in its reply to the petition. The response went on to indicate that the police are not considering a total ban on marchers passing through Muslim Quarter streets.

Am KeLavi, the association that organizes the parade, said in response, that the petition was political, arguing, “There is no reason why the political desire of the petitioners not to see Israeli flags in the Old City should supersede the right of the celebrants, who are celebrating a holiday anchored in law.”