Tens of thousands of youths marched through Jerusalem’s Old City on Sunday afternoon for the annual Dance of Flags, in celebration of Jerusalem Day and the unification of the city in 1967.
Students from dozens of yeshivas, pre-military academies, seminaries for young women and other religious institutions flocked to the Western Wall plaza, with men entering the Old City at the Damascus Gate and winding their way through the Muslim Quarter, and women passing through Jaffa Gate and the Jewish Quarter.
There were no security incidents during the march, despite earlier violence on the Temple Mount and the background friction of marchers parading through the Muslim Quarter.
The youths marching through the Arab neighborhood began their parade with boisterous singing and dancing outside Damascus Gate, singing various Jewish songs of praise and prayer for the unification of Jerusalem and the capture of the Temple Mount and the Western Wall during the 1967 Six Day War.
Among those songs sang frequently during the march, by both boys and girls, was the controversial “Zochreini Na” song, which recalls the biblical hero Samson’s words as he toppled the temple of Dagan on the Philistines who had blinded him.
The song has been used in far-right circles as a revenge anthem, where the word “Philistines” is replaced with “Palestinians.”
But despite the chanting of this song, as well as several incidents in which marchers taunted Palestinian residents cordoned off from the route of the march, the parade was largely conducted without incident.
Neriah Goodman – a student from the hesder yeshiva in Haspin in the Golan Heights – said it was important to celebrate Jerusalem Day. “This is our land and our country and the land of our forefathers,” he said, adding that it was important to celebrate the day “because of the great miracle” in which the Old City and the Western Wall were captured.
“Jerusalem is our capital,” he said. “We were able to liberate it. We are not occupiers. This is our land. The Arabs have got lots of other countries to go to, and we are very happy that God made this miracle for us.”
Rabbi Shai Winter, also of the hesder yeshiva, said the school had brought its students to the parade “because it is the journey of the soul of the entire Jewish people for all generations.”
Asked why Jerusalem Day has been so strongly embraced by the National-Religious community despite not being a religious holiday, Winter insisted that the events in which Jerusalem was reunited were suffused with religious meaning.
“There was a great deal of divine providence on this day when Jerusalem was liberated,” he said.
“We believe that the hand of God guides all these processes. It is a day of faith, of nationalism, of religion, of Torah, and it is the revelation of God’s presence,” he said, adding that the Jewish people were “still waiting to ascend further to the Temple and the complete resting of the divine presence there.”
He rejected concerns that have frequently been raised in recent years that the Jerusalem Parade march has become heavily nationalistic and even jingoistic, saying it was “important that all of the Jewish people know and show that all of Jerusalem belongs to the Jewish people,” but that there was “no intent to offend or belittle” anyone.
“A provocation is that in this place they stab Jews, which is a lot more than a provocation,” he said. “If Jews can’t walk in safety, it is a hate crime.”
Feelings among the Palestinian residents of the Old City however were not well disposed to the marchers.
Rami Amsalaam, a store owner in the Muslim Quarter, said there had been incidents of shoving and cursing at one stage between marchers and some residents, but nothing more serious than that.
He said that every year marchers cause some damage, but that in general he is not disturbed by the parade and that he hopes the day just passes quickly without incident.
“I open my shop, sit here, I don’t interfere with anyone and they don’t interfere with me,” said Amsalaam. “That’s it.”
Workers at the Abu Sabich bakery, also in the Muslim Quarter, were less sanguine however.
One described the marchers as “racists,” and said that they march through the Muslim Quarter as a provocation, arguing that they could enter through the Jaffa Gate “without creating any of these problems.”
Another was less bothered by the parade in general, but objected to the fact that it was held this year during Ramadan, the Muslim month of fasting, saying it should have been postponed and was disrespectful to Muslims.
Once the marchers traversed the Muslim Quarter, many thousands eventually arrived at the Western Wall plaza, where the traditional concert roused the participants in song and dance, accompanied by singer Benny Friedman and in the presence of the chief rabbis, Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Lion, and other dignitaries.
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