U.S. Embassy Protest in Jerusalem Turns Violent When Palestinian Flags Hoisted

Police charge crowd, remove flags and arrest at least three demonstrators as U.S. and Israeli officials celebrate opening of new embassy

Demonstrators clashing with Israeli Border Police officers during a protest outside the new U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem, May 14, 2018.
Mahmoud Illean/AP

A protest against the opening of the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem turned violent on Monday when police charged the crowd after demonstrators hoisted Palestinians flags.

As U.S. and Israeli officials attended the inauguration ceremony of the controversial diplomatic mission in the southern Jerusalem neighborhood of Arnona, police officers tore flags from protesters’ hands, using force on several occasions.

Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said that out of the 10 demonstrators removed from the scene and taken in for questioning, three were subsequently arrested.

Most of the hundreds of participants in the demonstration were Arabs from northern Israel and East Jerusalem. Rosenfeld said the protest had been coordinated in advance with police and that an agreement had been reached that no Palestinian flags would be hoisted.

He said the arrests were made because that agreement had been violated.

Israeli police often ban Palestinian flags at protests, on the grounds that they incite crowds to violence.

The demonstration was held a few hundred meters from the site of the new embassy, which was formerly the city’s U.S. Consulate.

Several Arab lawmakers from the Joint List (an alliance of predominantly Arab parties) participated in the protest, including Ahmad Tibi and Aida Touma-Sliman.

Israeli Border Police officers detaining a demonstrator during the protest outside the new U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem, May 14, 2018.
Mahmoud Illean/AP

Tibi accused the police of attacking the demonstrators, including the lawmakers, when they raised their flags. “They were aggressive, they are not willing to allow us to say in a democratic way our position: No to this [embassy] move, and no to the massacre in Gaza,” he said.

The Joint List lawmaker called it “a sad day for the Palestinian people. But Palestinian people had in the past much more cruel days, and they will overcome this horrible day,” he added.

The Arab protesters were joined by Jewish anti-occupation protesters – including about 100 members of the Jerusalem-based organization All That’s Left, which was comprised mainly of Diaspora Jews.

Protesters chanted slogans including “With our blood and tears, we will redeem you, Palestine” (in Arabic) and “Netanyahu you will see, Palestine will be free.”

During the demonstration, an elderly man collapsed. Before being taken by ambulance to a nearby hospital, he was treated by Tibi, who is also a physician. Tibi himself was beaten by police after he tried to use his parliamentary immunity to shield some of the demonstrators.

Toward the end of the demonstration, the protesters were joined by about a dozen ultra-Orthodox (or Haredi) men – part of a group known as True Torah Jews. The group does not recognize the State of Israel and is vehemently opposed to the military draft. The Haredi demonstrators held signs reading “Jews worldwide condemn Israeli bloody brutality” and “Authentic Jewry never recognized the State of Israel.”

Before the protest began, dozens of Israelis and foreigners who support the embassy move turned up near the site to demonstrate their solidarity. The supporters included a large contingent of Orthodox American Jews – many of them yeshiva students in Israel – as well as Christian evangelicals from as far away as Australia, New Zealand and China.

Many of them hoisted American and Israeli flags. They sang patriotic Israeli songs, as well as “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

Before the demonstration began, fearing confrontations, police set up barricades to separate the two groups.