On Thursday, May 18, thousands of far-right Jewish extremist settlers staged a highly provocative, racist, and divisive ‘flag march’ in occupied East Jerusalem. The march is held annually by illegal Israel settlers and other right-wing and ultra-nationalist Israelis to mark ‘Jerusalem day’, on which the Israeli occupation of East Jerusalem began in 1967 following Israel’s victory over neighboring Arab states in the six-day war. Over the years, the incendiary march has regularly turned violent, with the Israeli police and other security forces repressing and even attacking residents and Palestinians resisting the march to clear the area for the Israeli marchers.
This year also saw a massive deployment of Israeli police and security forces in Jerusalem, particularly in the Muslim quarter in the old city. Reports noted that over 2,000 police officers were stationed ahead of the march. Israeli security forces also erected checkpoints and blockades all across the old city to cut off access to Palestinians. According to Palestinian official sources, at least 1,400 Palestinian stores and businesses were forcibly closed. A handful of them closed their stores on their own. Many of the owners could not reach their stores due to the heavy traffic restrictions which led to hours-long jams. Many people who live in the old city were also unable to reach their homes.
The march saw thousands of settlers, accompanied by Israeli ministers and politicians, march through the Muslim quarter towards the Damascus gate as they shouted racist, abusive, and Islamophobic slurs against Palestinians and Arabs and waved the Israeli flag and the racist black flag of the far-right Lehava group. Some chanted, “your village will be burned.”
Reports noted that in a number of places along their route, marchers physically assaulted Palestinian residents, leading to clashes. The Israeli police subsequently joined in and beat the Palestinians.
Hours before the march began, around 800 Israeli settlers stormed into the Al-Aqsa mosque compound and reportedly performed Jewish prayers and rituals there, in violation of longstanding international agreements which forbid non-Islamic prayers and unsolicited visits to the mosque.
In Gaza, Israeli security forces attacked Palestinians protesting the flag march with live ammunition and tear gas, resulting in at least five people suffering injuries. Palestinians in Gaza and the occupied West Bank had staged rallies opposing the flag march. They were seen waving the Palestinian flag in a show of resistance against the recent Israeli attempts to ban it from public places.