Jerusalem's Old City, November 14,2014.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
The High Court on Monday rejected an appeal filed by two nongovernmental organizations attempting to prevent the procession of next Sunday’s Jerusalem Day march through the Muslim Quarter of the Old City.
The development follows an open letter from outgoing Construction Minister Uri Ariel to Israel Police Insp.-Gen. Yohanan Danino and Jerusalem District Police Asst.-Ch. Moshe Edri demanding that the Lion’s Gate be reopened for Jerusalem Day.
The petition against the Sunday march was filed by the left-wing Ir Amim organization and the Tag Meir group – which was founded as a liberal response to “price tag” groups – against the right-wing group A Nation of Lions, the Jerusalem Municipality and the police.
It claimed that past marches had been so violent and provocative that the case met the high standard for limiting persons’ right to march in a certain area.
While rejecting a petition with a “heavy heart,” Deputy Supreme Court President Elyakim Rubinstein also warned the police that any marchers who call for “death to Arabs” should be immediately arrested.
The High Court of Justice said that there was “zero room for tolerance for those provoking violence, verbally or physically.”
Rubinstein explained that calling for violence against Arabs and vandalism in the context of the march were not “freedom of speech” but “freedom to incitement” and could not be allowed by the police.
The court expressed some misgivings about the march and provocative actions and vandalism and the lack of appropriate police and state actions during past events, but said that it believed that at this time the march organizers and police were committed to keeping the march peaceful and not overtly provocative.
Moreover, the court called upon rabbis and other leaders spearheading the procession to ensure participants adhere to the court order.
The national holiday, also known as Yom Yerushalayim, celebrates the reunification of the capital following the 1967 Six Day War. It takes place on 28 Iyar – this year beginning on Saturday night and continuing into Sunday, when it is expected to attract tens of thousands of Jews from across the country.
The Lion’s Gate is one of seven entrances through its walled ramparts. However, it carries significant historical import to Israelis due to the fact that IDF paratroopers broke through it on their route to liberate the Old City during the war.
Nonetheless, after the light rail was completed five years ago a police mandate temporarily prohibited mass marches through the entrance due to safety concerns. Despite numerous protestations and the High Court ruling, it has not yet been lifted by the police.
The traditional march to the Western Wall has since been rerouted through Damascus and Jaffa Gates, though still going through the Muslim Quarter.
In his letter to Danino and Edri, Ariel (Bayit Yehudi) said the ban imparts “weakness,” and a lack of sovereignty, adding that he hopes to march through the gate with over 100 revelers.
“Tens of thousands of marchers entering the Old City on all sides has become the symbol of Jerusalem Day,” Ariel wrote. “A ban on crossing the Lion’s Gate radiates weakness and reflects a lack of Israel’s sovereignty over Greater Jerusalem.”
Despite the ban, Ariel called on the public to join him in the march, which is to feature the festive Dance of Flags (“Rikudegalim”), now in its 30th year.
“I call on the public to join me in celebrating Jerusalem Day, to swear allegiance to the Holy City, and to celebrate the work of our soldiers; soldiers who liberated Jerusalem from Arab occupation,” he wrote.
In response to Ariel’s demand, East Jerusalem Portfolio head and Meretz City Councilman Meir Margalit dismissed the outgoing housing minister as a “terrorist.”
“This man is a terrorist and someone should stop him,” Margalit said on Monday afternoon.
Meanwhile, Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said security preparations for the holiday are still under way, but he did not say if the Lion’s Gate would be reopened for the mass procession.
“At this moment police are focusing on security assessments that are being made for the parade from the center of town to the Western Wall, for which we are expecting thousands and thousands of people,” he said.
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