Court Rejects Petition to Bar Jerusalem Day March From Muslim Quarter

State, parade organizers agree to hold parade 15 minutes earlier, so marchers would leave Old City's Muslim Quarter before Ramadan starts.

Waving flags during a march marking Jerusalem Day near Damascus Gate outside Jerusalem's Old City May 17, 2015.
Olivier Fitoussi

Sunday's Jerusalem Day march in the capital will pass through the Mulsim Quarter of the Old City, as planned, after the High Court rejected an urgent petition asking that the march be rerouted to avoid friction with the Old City's Arab population.

Jerusalem Day in an Israeli national holiday commemorating the establishment of Israeli control over the Old City in the 1967 Six-Day War.

The annual march, scheduled for the late afternoon, is typically attended by tens of thousands of religious Zionist youth and is usually a source of tension in the Old City. In previous marches, racist insults were hurled by marchers at Arabs and instances of vandalism were reported.

The court approved an agreement between the state and the parade's organizers that the march will start 15 minutes earlier than scheduled to ensure that no Jewish marchers are present in the Muslim Quarter if Ramadan begins on Sunday.

The start of Ramadan, a holiday during which Muslims fast during daylight hours for a month, is determined by Muslim clerics in Saudi Arabia.

Reuters

According to the court ruling, the last of the marchers will be allowed to enter the Muslim Quarter through Damascus Gate at 6:15 P.M. and the quarter's main street will be clear by 7 P.M.

The judges seemed skeptical when presented with the agreement, but Jerusalem District Police chief Yoram Halevy promised that the police would ensure that the timetable was adhered to.

The judges ordered police to make sure there was "minimal friction with the Muslim residents" and reiterated an instruction from last year to show "zero tolerance to verbal and physical violence."

Tensions surrounding the march are higher this year due to the possible clash with the first day of Ramadan. The organizers of the march and the police reached an agreement last week to hold the parade earlier in the day in attempt to reduce the risk of clashes.

Thursday's court petition was filed by the Ir Amim non-profit group and Amir Cheshin, a former Arab affairs adviser to Jerusalem’s mayor. The petitioners demanded that the court instruct the police to bar the march from the Muslim Quarter.

Representing the petitioners, human rights attorney Itay Mack wrote that “this decision [on the route] is extremely unreasonable and seriously impinges on basic rights that have long been recognized by this honorable court, such as the freedom of worship and the movement of worshippers, of residents and merchants within the Muslim Quarter and outside it.”

A similar petition was rejected last year. The court at the time ordered police to show zero tolerance toward racist calls, particularly “Death to the Arabs,” which has been increasingly heard in recent years.

According to Thursday's petition, last year's marchers shouted “Kahane lives” and “Mohammed is dead,” as well as sing a song of revenge against Palestinians, despite efforts to prevent them by parade organizers,. The plaintiffs admitted that very few cries of “Death to the Arabs” were heard.

MK Yousef Jabareen (Joint List) harshly criticized the court's decision to allow the march enter the Muslim Quarter on the eve of Ramadan.

"This is a provocative, racist and violent march whose sole purpose is to terrorize the Palestinian merchants of the Muslim Quarter," he said. "On the evening in which Palestinians celebrate Ramadan, a month of tolerance and brotherhood, the police chose, and the High Court approved, to allow marchers provoke Palestinians, hurt them and sow hatred an fear.

"Can anyone imagine that the police would allow a similar march of Palestinians pass through the Jewish Quarter on the eve of Passover?" Jabareed asked. "East Jerusalem is part of the Palestinian land occupied in 1967 and no march, no matter how racist, will change this."