Israeli far-right nationalists began a flag-waving march through occupied East Jerusalem on Tuesday that risks reigniting tensions with Palestinians and poses an early challenge for Israel’s new government.
At least six Palestinians have been arrested by Israeli forces, and dozens more were assaulted and forcibly removed from the Damascus Gate plaza leading to the Old City.
Metal barriers were set up by Israeli police on the roads leading to Damascus Gate, which has been sealed off to prevent the entry of Palestinians.
The so-called March of the Flags celebrates the anniversary of Israel’s 1967 occupation of the city’s eastern part.
“The right to demonstrate is a right in all democracies,” said Israel’s Internal Security Minister Omer Bar-Lev. “The police is ready and we will do everything in our power to preserve the delicate thread of coexistence.”
Palestinians view the march as provocative as Jewish settlers flaunt their sovereignty over the occupied territory. Previous marches have included Israeli chants of “Death to Arabs” and the attacking of Palestinian homes and shops in the Old City.
Israel’s annexation of East Jerusalem since the Six-Day War of 1967 is not recognised by most of the international community, which says the city’s final status should be a matter of negotiation between the two sides.
Here are the latest updates:
Israeli nationalists chant “Death to Arabs”
Hundreds of Jewish nationalists participating in the “Flag Parade” in the Damascus Gate area were heard chanting “Death to Arabs” in Hebrew. In another anti-Arab chant, they yelled: “May your village burn.”
One Israeli man shouted at Palestinians in Arabic: “A second Nakba is coming” – referring to the 1948 ethnic cleansing of at least 700,000 Palestinians by Zionist paramilitaries.
Palestinians have been removed and barred from the civic heart of East Jerusalem, Damascus Gate, to make room for “Death to the Arabs” chants. https://t.co/8epAWqzGLI
— Yair Wallach (@YairWallach) June 15, 2021
According to the Israeli daily Yediot Ahronoth, the Israeli far-right member of parliament Itamar Ben-Gvir, was present during the march.
The daily also reported that four Palestinian Israeli lawmakers, Ahmad Tibi, Ayman Odeh, Osama Saadi and Sami Abu Shehada, had arrived at the Damascus Gate and criticised the decision to allow the march.
Israeli forces injure 17 Palestinians in Jerusalem
At least 17 Palestinians have been wounded by Israeli forces in the surrounding area of the Old City, the Palestinian Red Crescent said.
At least three of the wounded were taken to hospital, while the rest of the injuries were treated in the field.
The Red Crescent also reported that Israeli forces fired on an ambulance and halted the movement of the medical team involved.
Israeli forces prevent raising of Palestinian flag by Damascus Gate
At least two cases of a raised Palestinian flag being snatched by Israeli forces has been captured by local Palestinian journalists on video.
In the first incident, a Palestinian woman near the Damascus Gate area raised the flag for a few seconds before Israeli forces grabbed it and pushed the Palestinian woman back from the area.
لم يحتملوا رؤية العلم الفلسطيني، شرطة الاحتلال تهاجم مقدسية رفعت علم فلسطين أمام باب العامود بالقدس pic.twitter.com/5WoguzLnHe
— AlQastal القسطل (@AlQastalps) June 15, 2021
Caption: They cannot stand the sight of the Palestinian flag. Israeli occupation police attack a Jerusalemite woman who raised the flag in front of Damascus Gate
A second video shows another woman raising the Palestinian flag in the face of the Israeli nationalists during their “Flag Parade”, before she was knocked to the ground by Israeli forces.
فتاه فلسطينيه ترفع علم فلسطين امام كل اعلام الكيان الصهيوني ، فينقض عليها قوات الاحتلال الصهيوني بالضرب وسرقو العلم الفلسطيني . علم فلسطيني يخيفهم . تحيه لهذه الفتاه الفلسطينيه التي اثلجت صدورنا .
— qadi (@ALQadiPAL) June 15, 2021
Israeli nationalists begin march outside Old City in East Jerusalem
Hundreds of Jewish nationalists gathered several hundred metres from Damascus Gate near Jerusalem’s Old City.
Most appeared to be young, religious men, and many held blue-and-white Israeli flags. The crowd appeared to be much smaller than during last month’s parade, which was postponed.
“Jerusalem is for all religions, but Jerusalem is in Israel. And in Israel, we must be able to go wherever we want, with our flag,” said marcher Doron Avrahami, 50, channelling right-wing frustrations with police restrictions.
Five Palestinians injured: Red Crescent
The Palestinian Red Crescent Society in Jerusalem has reported five people were injured during confrontations with Israeli forces in the vicinity of occupied East Jerusalem’s Old City.
Three were wounded with rubber bullets, one was physically beaten, and another was injured by a stun grenade fired by Israeli police.
The Red Crescent in Jerusalem has summoned all its employees and volunteers in anticipation of confrontations with the Israeli forces, and opened a field hospital at its headquarters in al-Sawwana neighbourhood to treat minor and moderate injuries.
At least 13 ambulances are on standby in occucpied East Jerusalem, in addition to three ambulance trailers within the Old City.
No access to Damascus Gate
Israeli forces have blocked access to the Damascus Gate and are pushing Palestinians away from the area, specifically targeting the youth who are often pushed to the ground and chased out of the vicinity.
People can neither enter or exit the Damascus Gate, one of the openings into the Old City.
In one instance, the police attempted to make a shop owner close his store. Other vendors in the area have emptied their stalls.
“I had to shut down my bread stall because of the trouble,” Abu Rafiq told Al Jazeera.
Al Jazeera’s Stefanie Dekker said the settler march will not enter through the Damascus Gate.
The area is “the heart of occupied East Jerusalem where Palestinians usually gather,” she said, speaking from the site.
The march will begin within the Damascus Gate plaza, where the “Flag Parade” will take place for about 40 minutes, she explained.
This area of occupied #Jerusalem has been turned into a zone exclusive for Jewish Israelis.
No Palestinians allowed here as jewish settlers roam freely. Watch how this police officer greets the settlers with affection ? pic.twitter.com/MYYfV7yOc3
— Jalal (@JalalAK_jojo) June 15, 2021
But unlike previous years, the Gate has been locked, meaning that the march will not enter the Muslim Quarter in the Old City.
Instead, the march will have to “leave back up the stairs and move outside the walls of the Old City into Jaffa Gate and go in that way,” Dekker said.
“Palestinians will tell you this [march] is a major provocation,” full of “racist slogans against the Palestinians,” she added.
“These are far-right Jewish settlers celebrating the occupation of east Jerusalem, and that is something that is incredibly inciteful.”
Israeli forces close off streets leading to Damascus Gate
Israeli forces closed off roads leading to Damascus Gate in occupied East Jerusalem, as others forced Palestinians on the steps of the gate leading into the Old City to leave.
Videos shared on social media showed Israeli police forces setting up metal barricades, blocking off all the paths to the gate.
قوات الاحتلال تغلق الشوارع المؤدية لباب العامود وتمنع المقدسيين من الوصول إليه تمهيداً لمسيرة الأعلام الاستيطانية pic.twitter.com/PjGxlRrkkD
— AlQastal القسطل (@AlQastalps) June 15, 2021
Translation: Israeli forces close streets leading to Damascus Gate and prevent Jerusalemites from reaching it in preparation for the settlers’ ‘Flags March’.
Palestinians attacked by Israeli forces
Israeli special forces troops have attacked young Palestinian men in the Damascus Gate plaza.
Nearby, an old Palestinian man on crutches and an elderly woman were also roughed up by police.
A video shared on social media showed several Israeli policemen beating up a Palestinian man near Damascus Gate, as they dragged him down a flight of steps.
שער שכם,5 שוטרים!! למה?? pic.twitter.com/vfxkuXtgLa
— Real News IL (@RealNewsIL) June 15, 2021
Translation: Damascus Gate. Five policemen! Why?
Fatima Khader, 62, from the Old City, denounced the confiscation of her home by Israeli settlers, and the jailing of her children.
“My house was taken by the Israelis. I was assaulted by Israelis,” she told Al Jazeera. “There is no international law to protect us – what law is this? I am old, they took my children and put them in prison.”
Palestinians launch incendiary balloons into Israel over march
Palestinian activists launched incendiary balloons and kites from the Gaza Strip towards areas in southern Israel.
“The kites are in response to the provocative flag march in East Jerusalem on Tuesday,” a Palestinian activist who identified himself as Abu Houzayfa told Anadolu Agency.
The incendiary balloons or kites contain flammable material or oil-soaked rags that may ignite fires once they land on crops.
Israeli police seal off Damascus Gate
Palestinian media reported that Israeli police forces prevented Palestinians from reaching Damascus Gate in Jerusalem’s Old City.
Videos posted on social media showed Israeli police installing metal barricades as Palestinians were blocked from going through the barriers.
الاحتلال يمنع الأهالي الوصول لباب العامود هذه الأثناء pic.twitter.com/eeA1HE0nR4
— AlQastal القسطل (@AlQastalps) June 15, 2021
Translation: Israeli forces prevent Palestinians from reaching Damascus Gate.
‘Clear provocation’, says Israeli councillor
Laura Wharton, councilwoman in the Jerusalem City Council, told the Associated Press that she considered the planned march “completely ridiculous”.
“It’s a clear provocation of extreme right-wingers who are dissatisfied with the government, dissatisfied with a lot of things, and are going to vent their frustrations on the residents of the Old City,” said Wharton.
The march poses an early test for Israel’s fragile new government, which was sworn in on Sunday and includes parties from across the political spectrum.
Cancelling the march would have opened Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and other right-wing members of the coalition to intense criticism from the Israeli right-wing who would view it as a capitulation to Hamas.
Iron Dome system readied in Israel’s south
The Iron Dome missile system batteries could be seen in Israel’s south, as the army deployed them amid heightened tensions with Palestinians in Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip.
The decision by Israel’s new government to grant approval for the contentious parade by Israeli nationalists through Palestinian areas around Jerusalem’s Old City raises the possibility of renewed confrontations just weeks after an 11-day assault on Gaza by Israel.
‘Palestinians terrified of losing their homes’
Hussein Nasser Eddin, 35, from Shuafat in occupied East Jerusalem said there could be major problems if more people congregate at Damascus Gate to confront the Israel marchers.
But he said lots of police are present so they will prevent people from arriving. Most of the problems will be in the Old City, the logistics officer with local media suggested.
“Palestinians are very angry. People are terrified of losing their homes with the forced expulsions and demolitions,” Eddin told Al Jazeera.
Khalid Alian, 26, from Jabal al-Mukaber also denounced Israeli settlers for forcing Palestinians out of their homes.
“This is our land and the settlers are taking our land and taking our future and dreams away. Eight of my friends were killed by Israeli soldiers. If you had documents proving ownership of your land, how would you feel if you were thrown out to make way for settlers?” he asked.
Israel deploys thousands of extra police ahead of march
Israeli police said it will deploy 2,000 forces to provide protection for participants in the planned “flag march” across occupied East Jerusalem.
According to the Israeli Broadcasting Corporation, the police forces will be deployed in the vicinity of the routes that the participants will take during the march.
The broadcaster said Israeli police also decided to reinforce their presence in the mixed cities inside Israel in anticipation of violence.
‘All options on the table’, warns Hamas
When the march was originally announced for last week, senior Hamas official Khalil Hayya warned it could lead to a return to violence that killed more than 256 people in Gaza and 11 in Israel last month.
Hamas spokesman Mohammed Hamadeh said mediators had been in contact with Palestinian armed groups in recent days to appeal to them “not to engage in a military escalation on the basis of the march”.
“All options remain on the table, however,” said Hamadeh.
Last month’s escalation began after several violent raids into the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood and the Al Aqsa Mosque compound were carried out by Israeli forces. This led to Hamas issuing a deadline for Israel to remove its forces from these areas, and then fired a salvo of rockets at Israel when the ultimatum went unheeded. This in turn led to Israel to launch its offensive on the Gaza Strip.
Israeli settlers begin to gather for nationalist march
Israeli settlers began arriving midday while being escorted by plainclothes police.
Heavily armed paramilitary border police and other forces patrolled the streets of the city, set up checkpoints, and blocked off roads throughout East Jerusalem.
Iron barriers were placed outside the entrance to Damascus Gate, where Palestinians said they would gather to confront the Israelis.
Young Palestinian men stood on street corners watching, and Palestinian shop owners started to close their businesses. Anti-march protests were expected against the march after midday prayers.
Hundreds of Palestinians gathered inside the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound since morning to prevent settlers from trying to enter. Busloads came from inside Israel.
Activists say if the Israeli settlers stay away from the compound the clashes will be less intense. Groups of young boys chanted slogans and refused to move away as police stood nearby.