This year, too, “Jerusalem Day” was accompanied by anger, threats and violence – and in doing so brought back unpleasant memories of the past year: On Jerusalem Day in May 2021, Hamas launched rockets in Gaza, which Western countries have classified as a terrorist organization fired at Jerusalem – the trigger for an 11-day military escalation that killed over 250 Palestinians and 14 Israelis.
A massive deployment of security forces in the Holy City should avoid worse this year. Nevertheless, there were violent scenes again and again throughout the day.
From an Israeli perspective, Jerusalem Day should be a happy occasion: on this day, the country celebrates the conquest of East Jerusalem in the 1967 Six-Day War. That part of the city is home to the Wailing Wall, the last reminder of the former Jewish Temple therefore of particular importance for Jews. Jordan had conquered East Jerusalem in 1948 during the Israeli War of Independence, controlled it until 1967 and did not allow Jews access to their holy site. According to the official style, Israelis celebrated the city’s “reunification” yesterday.
The Palestinians, in turn, see Jerusalem as the capital of their future state. The Palestinian Authority claims only the eastern part of the city, in line with the prevailing stance of the international community. For many Palestinian citizens, however, partitioning the city is just as difficult as it is for most Israelis.
On the Temple Mount, which Muslims call Al-Haram Al-Sharif, stands the Al-Aqsa Mosque, the third most important shrine in Islam and an emotionally highly charged, religious-political symbol for the Palestinian struggle for independence. “Jerusalem is a red line,” was the translation of an Arabic slogan shared by a number of Palestinians on Twitter yesterday.
Tensions flared up just outside the Al-Aqsa Mosque on Sunday morning. More than 2,500 Israelis climbed the Temple Mount, some waving Israeli flags. Among the visitors was a personality who was also highly controversial in Israel: the right-wing extremist member of parliament Itamar Ben-Gvir, head of the anti-Arab party “Jewish Strength”, who always reliably turns up in hot spots.
There, on the plateau in front of the mosque, there is a fragile status quo: Jews are allowed to climb up, but not to pray there. The site is managed by an Islamic foundation, but Israel is responsible for security. According to the police, some Jewish visitors began to pray, after which security forces took them away. Some Palestinians, in turn, began throwing stones and firecrackers. Several people were arrested. In the Old City of Jerusalem, too, young nationalist Israelis and Palestinian traders and passers-by repeatedly clashed: Some Israelis sprayed Palestinians with pepper spray, who in turn threw chairs and bottles at the young people.
However, the so-called flag march on Sunday afternoon was awaited with great excitement: Thousands of people, mostly young religious nationalists with Israeli flags, took part in the march through the Old City of Jerusalem, protected by 3,000 police officers, under high security precautions.
This year, the route also led through the Muslim Quarter of the Old City, a point that had been hotly debated in advance and which the Palestinians see as a particular provocation. Last year, Israel’s government had the route changed at short notice in order to avoid the Muslim quarter. However, the current government under right-wing Prime Minister Naftali Bennett stuck to the route despite warnings. Some analysts see it as Bennett’s attempt to show strength after his coalition recently lost a majority in Parliament and many observers believe its days are numbered.
According to Israeli media reports, the Israeli Air Force had warplanes circling over Gaza in the afternoon in order to be able to quickly retaliate in the event of renewed rocket fire.
The Hamas leadership, on the other hand, had already threatened “resistance” beforehand. “We are ready for all scenarios,” the head of the group’s political bureau, Ismail Haniyeh, announced on Sunday morning.