Israeli police officers and ultra-nationalists assaulted Palestinians and journalists on Thursday as far-right ministers and lawmakers joined the divisive “flag march” in Jerusalem.
Marchers pelted stones at a Middle East Eye reporter and other journalists covering the gathering in the Damascus Gate area near the Old City. At least two journalists were hit in the head and wounded.
Journalist Yahya Abu Zneid was injured when settlers attacked journalists during the "settlement flags march" in occupied Jerusalem pic.twitter.com/Bk1uDs7zub— AlQastal News (@QastalNewsEn) May 18, 2023
Dozens of participants were carrying the black flag of the racist far-right Lehava group while chanting “your village will be burned”.
Elsewhere, ultra-nationalists marching through the Old City’s Muslim quarter beat Palestinian residents, leading to some scuffles. Israeli police intervened by assaulting Palestinians who were already under attack.
A Palestinian activist, Iyad Abu Snainah, was arrested after yelling at police for failing to protect Palestinians.
Meanwhile, thousands of Israelis continued to flock to the Damascus Gate plaza as part of the annual march, which is held on the “Jerusalem Day” holiday commemorating the occupation of East Jerusalem in 1967.
The event is associated with violence against Palestinians and the “display of incitement, Jewish dominance, and racism,” according to Israeli NGO Ir Amim.
Among the participants on Thursday were far-right National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir, Minister of Finance Bezalel Smotrich and Transport Minister Miri Regev.
“There are tens of thousands of people here, thank God,” Ben Gvir said after arriving at the starting point of the march on King George Street. “Jerusalem is ours forever.”
Limor Son Har-Melech, a lawmaker in Ben Gvir’s far-right Jewish Power party, arrived at another point in the march, telling the Times of Israel she was participating to “celebrate our victory over the Arabs”.
Today in Jerusalem's Old City, illegal Jewish colonizers celebrating Israel's extreme-right provocative 'Flag March' brutally assault Palestinians with the support of Israeli occupation forces. pic.twitter.com/spJQGkb4qR— Quds News Network (@QudsNen) May 18, 2023
Under heavy security, marchers at Damascus Gate were seen chanting racist slogans, waving the Israeli flag, and dancing as more people were expected to join.
Israeli police deployed some 3,000 officers to secure the rally, which is meant to demonstrate Israel’s “sovereignty” over Jerusalem.
Israeli snipers were reportedly seen stationed across the Old City’s walls while police survivance drones were flying over the crowds.
All roads leading to the Damascus Gate were also blocked to journalists and Palestinians.
An MEE report was denied access by Israeli police despite showing them a press card, forcing her to travel further to enter from another road.
Another “flag march” took place earlier in the day in Lydd (Lod), a city in central Israel that is home to a large Palestinian population.
Palestinians staged counter-rallies in the occupied West Bank and Gaza, flying the Palestinian flag.
Protesters near the fence separating the Gaza Strip and Israel were dispersed by Israeli soldiers using tear gas.
In previous years, Israeli participants in the “flag march” have assaulted Palestinians and attacked, spat on, and graffitied Palestinian businesses and homes on their route.
They also chanted slogans such as “death to Arabs”, “the second Nakba is coming” and “Muhammad is dead,” referring to Islam’s prophet.
Earlier in the day, Israeli settlers and politicians broke into Al-Aqsa Mosque as part of the “Jerusalem Day” celebrations. One person was filmed insulting Prophet Muhammad while inside the mosque’s courtyards.
Several lawmakers were in their ranks, including Negev and Galilee Development Minister Yitzhak Wasserlauf, who belongs to the Jewish Power party.
Three MPs in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party, Dan Illouz, Amit Halevi, and Ariel Kallner, also took part.
Jordan condemned the storming and warned that the “provocative” march could lead to an escalation in Jerusalem.
Israel captured East Jerusalem in 1967 and annexed it in 1980 in a move that has never been recognised by the international community.
Israel’s control of the city violates several principles under international law, which stipulates that an occupying power has no sovereignty in the territory it occupies and cannot make any permanent changes there.