Israelis celebrated Jerusalem Day on Sunday, May 17 – the annual Israeli national holiday marking the 1967 taking of East Jerusalem. This ‘celebration’ involves tens of thousands of Jewish Israelis marching in Jerusalem down to the Old City and through the Muslim Quarter to the Western Wall. This year there was an attempt in court to stop the march.
The four members of the Jerusalem EAPPI team monitored the day from 8am to 8pm.
Any march – anywhere – of thousands and thousands of mainly young men, waving their country’s flag, and shouting nationalistic slogans is likely to seem a bit distasteful. It seemed more – perhaps the word is – unseemly here, as part of the march was through East Jerusalem and its Muslim Quarter. The occupation of East Jerusalem by Israel is considered illegal under International Law.
The photos below hopefully give a sense of our day. We started with a walk through the Muslim quarter of the Old City, where shopkeepers told us they had been told to shut up shop by around 4pm as the march would be passing through.
We then headed for the tourist gate of the Al Aqsa Mosque Compound, known by Israelis as ‘The Temple Mount’.
We came across Jewish men entering the Compound – and moving through with police protection – despite the following notice from the Chief Rabbinate.The police and troops were however keeping Jewish groups out of the Compound when they tried to enter through the non-tourist gates. These groups often met opposition too from the doughty women who seek to protect their Holy Place. We then headed for the Damascus Gate through which the march was due to enter the Old City. The police and troops were beginning to ask the Palestinian people to leave the area. This was the precursor of clearing the surrounding streets of Palestinians. This was “for their own safety”. Unsurprisingly there were objections. Meanwhile a barrage balloon (seen in the photo below) was overhead, and a new barrier arrived! The clearing of the Palestinians, and many passing tourists, from the streets, for their own safety, continued to cause concern. I met a Palestinian woman who said, “These are our places. They have a whole country to march in.”
We proceeded up the hill to check out a peace demonstration organised by Israelis. A spokeswoman from Meretz, an Israeli political party of the left, said to me, “We are against the sort of nationalism embodied by Jerusalem Day. We want Arabs and Jews to live together in peace – that is why we are here.”
The 200-300 demonstrators stood outside a civic building, and were faced up by chanting young Israeli men. The police and troops kept the groups apart. An EA colleague of mine, Joan, talked to an Israeli woman from Australia who had trained to be a Rabbi but was having to go to New York to be ordained, as she said she could not achieve this in Israel. She had joined the demonstration against the march.
Another EA colleague, Ninna, sought to engage an Israeli man in conversation about the march, but sadly was not able to get beyond, “I want peace, but Arabs won’t negotiate. They are all terrorists.” An Israeli mother explained the demonstrators to her child, ”They are not well in their heads.”By this time the march had really come to town as the photos below will show. If you would like to read more, the Israeli organisation Rabbis for Human Rights has written a very thoughtful and moving reflection on the march and an alternative Jerusalem Day commemoration their members attended.