Right-wing organizations are planning to hold an Israeli Flag March on Thursday through Jerusalem's Old City, in a move that is expected to inflame tensions with the Old City's Arab residents. The march, which was scheduled for Jerusalem Day last month as per tradition, was diverted due to security concerns as clashes between police and Palestinians in the city intensified.
The march is expected to pass through the Damascus Gate – a flashpoint of tensions in the lead-up to the most recent escalation between Israel and Gaza – and pass through the Arab Quarter on the way to the Western Wall, where mass prayers will be held at the march's conclusion.
In an advertisement for the march, the organizations wrote, "We must unite Jerusalem to establish victory! We're coming back to march through the streets of Jerusalem with our heads held high carrying Israeli flags."
The initial Jerusalem Day Flag March, which was slated for May 10, followed a different route than in previous years. Shortly before the march began, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu diverted its planned path as not to pass through the Damascus Gate in light of a series of clashes between Palestinians and Israeli police that had occurred there during Ramadan. Over 300 Palestinians were wounded in clashes with police that day, the Red Crescent had reported.
Moments after the march began, Hamas launched a salvo of rockets toward Jerusalem, setting off sirens throughout the city. Following the rockets, an exchange of fire broke out between Israel and Hamas, leading to an 11-day escalation between the two sides.
The organizers of the planned Flag March include members of the Religious Zionism party, the Binyamin and Gush Etzion Regional Councils, the Bnei Akiva and Ariel youth movements, and the right-wing Im Tirzu organization.
The Flag March, a tradition that began three decades ago, always passes along the main street in the Old City’s Muslim Quarter. In the past, participants in the march have shouted racist comments and incited violence against Palestinian inhabitants. Hundreds of marchers chanted “death to Arabs” among other things, and sang offensive songs. Marchers have also damaged Palestinian property on their way.
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Due to High Court of Justice petitions by the human rights group Ir Amim, and harsh criticism by the court's justices of the police – who they said treated marchers with undue restraint – organizers and the police increased their supervision of the parade in recent years. But the parade imposes restrictions on movement for Palestinian residents and the closing of certain streets and neighborhoods in the Muslim Quarter, and most Muslim business owners close their shops in the area.