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Jerusalem Day passes relatively quiet

What happened: An estimated 70,000 people participated in the march of flags in Jerusalem yesterday to mark the 55th anniversary of the city’s reunification.

  • Yesterday morning, over 2,600 Jews visited the Temple Mount, the most ever in a single day. Some waved Israeli flags and sang the Israeli national anthem, and others recited prayers and prostrated themselves, which is against the status quo rules. In response, the Israel Police removed them from the site.
  • Anticipating the Jewish visitors, a small group of Palestinians waited inside the Al-Aqsa Mosque. Some threw stones and let off fireworks but were thwarted by the police, without causing any injuries.
  • Overall, more than 3,000 police officers, some of whom were undercover were deployed across the city, often acting as a barrier between Israeli and Palestinian youths.
  • There were several minor clashes, mainly between extremists youths on both sides. 13 people were treated for light injuries, including two police officers. 60 people were detained.
  • Known Jewish extremists groups La Familia and Lahava joined the march and chanted racist, anti-Palestinian slogans.
  • In the area of New Gate, extremists attacked a car of Palestinian residents, clashed with police and threw stones and glass bottles at the gate. Violent clashes also broke out at Damascus Gate.
  • Also outside the Old City, clashes erupted between Jews and Palestinians in the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood.
  • In Issawiya, two empty buses entered the area by accident and were pelted with stoned, while an attempt was made to set one of the buses on fire.
  • Later in the day Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said he directed security forces “to show zero tolerance for violence or provocations by extremist elements, among them La Familia, in Jerusalem. The overwhelming majority of participants have come to celebrate but unfortunately there is a minority that has come to set the area ablaze.”
  • According to a Hamas spokesman: “The residents of East Jerusalem managed to show heroism and a firm stand in face of the occupation today. The occupation experienced fear and terror and was forced to mobilise all of its forces to allow the Flag Parade to pass. Nevertheless, sovereignty in Al-Aqsa remained a purely Palestinian and the occupation did not succeed with its agenda.”
  • Yesterday also marked the memorial day for members of the Ethiopian community who died on their journey to Israel.

Context: For Israelis, Jerusalem Day marks the reunification of the city following the Six-Day War in 1967.

  • It also marked the first time in almost 1,900 years that Jews had sovereignty over the Old City of Jerusalem and the holiest sites for Judaism.
  • Under the leadership of Defence Minister Moshe Dayan at the time, Israel refrained from taking full control on the Temple Mount. Instead, it kept the administration of the site with the Muslim Waqf, establishing the status quo agreement that remains in place today. Whereby only Muslims can pray, non-Muslims can visit during proscribed windows, when there is no Muslim prayer.
  • There has been growing pressure in recent years by some Orthodox Jews to allow for prayer rights on the site. The move was rejected both by the previous Netanyahu-led government and the current one. Nevertheless, as was seen again yesterday, visiting Jews are pushing the boundary of what they can do on the Temple Mount.
  • The tension was compounded this year as it marked the one year anniversary of the last Gaza conflict. Operation Guardian of the Walls was launched in May 2021 following seven rockets fired from Gaza towards Jerusalem.
  • Despite the tension, the march proceeded through the traditional route, which included entering the Old City via the Damascus Gate in East Jerusalem. Last year the route was redirected due to tension, but nevertheless Hamas launched their offensive. The year before the march was cancelled because of coronavirus.
  • The security forces were on high alert and had increased the number of Iron Dome missile defence batteries deployed across the country.
  • Israel had relayed messages to Hamas via Egyptian mediation that the IDF would retaliate with unprecedented force if rockets were launched at Israel.

Looking ahead: Israeli security forces remain vigilant and on high alert, and they have been broadly successful in navigating several occasions in Jerusalem over the last two months.

  • In the month ahead there remains potential dates for heightened tension. On June 5 Palestinians mark Naksa Day – Day of Setback (when Israel took over the West Bank in 1967 from Jordan occupation). The 6th June is the 40th anniversary of the beginning of the First Lebanon War. On the 15th June, Hamas will mark 15 years of their takeover of the Gaza Strip.
  • The cabinet yesterday also discussed plans to invest over NIS 1 billion (£237) to develop the city of Jerusalem. They soon intend to approve a five-year plan that will focus on “economic development, investment in academia, strengthening Jerusalem as a centre for tourism, and employment in the city, alongside plans to develop and build roads, remove trash and increase energy efficiency”.

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