Jerusalem Day celebrations.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Police and organizers have reached an agreement to alter the schedule of the Flag Parade for Jerusalem Day on Sunday, to avoid tensions with east Jerusalemites planning to celebrate Ramadan.
Under the agreement, entrance to Damascus Gate to the Old City will be allowed for marchers only from 5:30 p.m.
up until 6:30, after which anyone who arrives there will be diverted to Jaffa Gate. Representatives sent by the parade organizers will be responsible for enforcing the restriction.
Police said the change was made because the earlier the marchers enter the Muslim Quarter, the more likely it is that they will make their way to the Western Wall before Muslim worshipers began to walk through the quarter’s alleyways on the way to the Temple Mount.
According to Ch.-Supt. Asi Aharoni, the spokesman for the Jerusalem Police District, some of the confusion had to do with uncertainty about when exactly Ramadan will begin. If it begins on Sunday night, there is a possibility for an overlap with the Jewish marchers, bringing with it a potential for violence.
He said that the decision was made “not to alter the date of the parade or its route, but to change the time it begins in order to reduce the chance that Jewish marchers and Muslim worshipers will clash with one another.”
The Flag Dance portion of Jerusalem Day has for years been popular with right-wing Israelis, who run through the Muslim Quarter to the Western Wall, chanting and singing and waving Israeli flags. Some sing racist chants such as “Muhammad is dead” and “Death to the Arabs,” and Arab residents of the Muslim quarter are typically instructed to stay indoors until after the procession passes in order to avoid violence.
Betty Herschman, director of international advocacy for the Israeli NGO Ir Amim, said that the Flag March through the Old City is always problematic, but especially this year due to Ramadan.
She said she doesn’t believe that the schedule changes made by police will make a difference and that the possible confluence of the nationalist flag march and Ramadan eve only intensifies the potential for violence.
She said that while the parade “already includes a great violation of Palestinian freedom of movement and right to protection, now there is also a violation of their religious freedom and their right to prepare for their major holiday.”
A spokesman for Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat forwarded questions about security concerns for the event to the Jerusalem District Police.