Tens of Thousands Participate in Annual Israeli 'Flag March' Through Jerusalem's Muslim Quarter

Arab vendors leave shops open despite police warning they cannot protect them. Previous marches saw participants shouting racist slogans

A Jewish man and Palestinian woman confront each other at the beginning of the Flag March on May 13, 2018.
Olivier Fitoussi

Tens of thousands of teenaged Religious Zionists took part Sunday in the annual Flag March in Jerusalem, which marks the anniversary of the 1967 merger of West and East Jerusalem. As usual, the march's route took participants through the Old City's Muslim Quarter.

Some clashes erupted between Jews and Palestinians at the beginning of the march at Damascus Gate, resulting in some Palestinians being arrested. Six Jews were detained by police after singing songs considered to be incitement. 

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Although police promised vendors in the Muslim Quarter that they could keep their shops open, shopkeepers were warned Sunday that law enforcement will not be able to protect them. However, most vendors kept their shops open. In recent years, police have urged shopkeepers to keep their stores shut and sometime even required that they do so. Left-wing activists plan to arrive at the stores as a show of solidarity with the vendors.

Police said Saturday that it would "have zero tolerance for any form of physical and/or verbal violence, will use all tools at its disposal against rioters and those who break the law and will ensure that they are punished to the full extent of the law."

Virtually all of the marchers were teenage boys from religious right-wing yeshivas. Many of them were bussed in from West Bank settlements where they attend school.

A study published this week by the Jewish People Policy Institute, an independent Jerusalem-based think-tank, found that only 4 percent of Israeli Jews who define themselves as secular participate in activities to mark Jerusalem Day. Among religious groups, more than half do.

Jerusalem Day this year falls exactly one day before the historic U.S. embassy move from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Some of the marchers held American flags or had American flags draped around them as a show of gratitude to the United States.

In previous years, participants had been known to chant “Death to the Arabs” and other racist slogans during the march. Longtime observers of the march noted that this year police were particularly vigilant about enforcing restrictions on such hate speech.

As in previous years, marchers broke out into large circle dances at the entrance to Damascus Gate in the Old City and sang patriotic Hebrew songs as they entered the Arab market from there.

Also Sunday, tens of thousands are expected to visit the Tomb of Samuel north of Jerusalem to take part in a ritual marking the anniversary of the prophet's death.  Jerusalem will on Sunday also host dozens of public events under the banner of the Jerusalemite Day of Diversity to celebrate diversity and tolerance.

Earleir Sunday, violent clashes erupted between the Jerusalem Waqf and the Israel Police at the entrance to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem as hundreds of Jews visited the compound.

During the confrontation, a policeman slapped a young Palestinian who shouted at Jews praying there, causing a violent riot.

The riots erupted after police removed a number of underage Israelis who had been praying in the compound, against regulations. Jewish Temple Mount groups said that 1,620 Jews visited the site before noon on Sunday – apparently a record daily number of Jewish visitors since 1967.