The quiet in Jerusalem has been seriously undermined over the past few days, and the situation is likely to get even worse on Monday because of the Flags March scheduled to take place in the afternoon. Whether it goes ahead is in the hands of the prime minister, the police, and the Jerusalem municipality.
In an announcement on Sunday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said, “We will not allow any extremist element to undermine the quiet in Jerusalem.” On paper it seems like a responsible, thoughtful announcement. On Monday we will see if Netanyahu will actually stand by his commitment and take action to realize it.
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Jerusalem is boiling. Setting up barriers at Damascus Gate was a provocative, foolish move, that disturbed residents marking the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, against the backdrop of the expected eviction of hundreds of Palestinians from their homes in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood. Added to that was Saturday’s ugly effort by police to block hundreds of Israeli Muslims from exercising their freedom of worship by going to pray at the Al-Aqsa Mosque for Laylat al-Qadr, the night Muslims believe the Koran was sent down from heaven.
The annual Flags March has always been a blatant, insolent and provocative show of force, aimed at harming local Palestinians and their property and humiliating them under the auspices of the authorities. The march was launched by nationalist rabbis immediately after the Six-Day War and greatly expanded over time. For years the march has been characterized by racist chants, hateful songs and violent assaults on Palestinian passers-by and property.
Following criticism by the Supreme Court, march organizers in recent years have made efforts to prevent these ugly phenomena, but the aggression and domination expressed by a mass march with flags going through the Old City’s Muslim Quarter during the last days of Ramadan are shocking in themselves. The march route, which begins in the western part of the city and ends at the Western Wall, splits into two: The women march through the Jewish Quarter and the men through the Muslim Quarter. The intention is clear: to provoke the residents. This year this could lead to a particularly dangerous flare-up.
The organizers of this demonstration present it as a celebration marking the unification of the city on Jerusalem Day, but Jerusalem is far from being a unified city – this year, more than ever – and no violent march is going to change that fact.
It is here that the prime minister’s promise not to let extremists disrupt the quiet must be realized. It will not reduce the marchers’ joy if the event takes place solely in the Jewish Quarter and doesn’t enter the Old City’s Muslim Quarter. A responsible government, municipality, and police would prevent this. The last thing Jerusalem needs now is another nationalist provocation like this immoral march.
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The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.