Two people, two reactions to commemoration of conquer, unification of Holy City
[Jerusalem] Routine activities ground to a halt on “Jerusalem Day” as children dressed in blue and white crowded onto the streets waving flags and singing. Several marches took place near the city center and a concert was held on King George Street, the city’s iconic thoroughfare, but not all of the gatherings were peaceful. As is the case every year, a heavy police presence separated crowds of Jewish celebrants from Palestinian protesters in the old city where a number of scuffles and arrests took place.
Jerusalem day commemorates Israel taking control of eastern Jerusalem and with it the Kotel, or Western Wall, the holiest site in Judaism. Prior to the 1967 war, Jerusalem was a divided city, the eastern half governed by Jordan. For religious Jews the unification of the city was extremely significant as it marked the first time in 2000 years that the Jewish people controlled what they call the Temple Mount and what Muslims call Haram Al-Sharif. The holiday is marked every year on 28 of Iyar, coinciding with the date on the Jewish calendar when Israeli troops first entered the Old City in 1967, during what became known as the Six Day War. It was first commemorated in 1968, at the behest of the Israeli government. In 1998, the day was officially recognized as a national holiday.
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The Flag March, a central part of the Jerusalem Day celebrations for religious Zionists, is controversial due to the route it takes through the old city. On their way to the Western Wall, celebrants march through the Muslim Quarter in the Old City, and have in the past been accused of racist and sometimes violent taunting towards the residents. Muslims, including shopkeepers, are told by police to vacate the streets during the march.
This year, the High Court of Justice rejected a petition by two leftwing Israeli organizations to change the route of the March of Flags. The court ordered police not tolerate any sign of racist behavior during the event. Despite this, scuffles broke out at Jerusalem’s Damascus Gate as Jewish and Palestinian youth chanted slogans and songs at each other. A number of arrests were made. Left wing protestors held a demonstration against what they described as “the March of Hate” nearby at Jerusalem’s City Hall.