Israelis celebrate as they hold Israeli flags during a parade marking Jerusalem Day, the day in the Jewish calendar when Israel captured East Jerusalem and the Old City from Jordan during the 1967 Middle East War, just outside Damascus Gate outside Jerusalem's Old City May 24, 2017..
(photo credit: RONEN ZVULUN/REUTERS)
Some 200,000 Muslim worshipers congregated on the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif on the second Friday of the month of Ramadan. More than twice that amount from east Jerusalem, across Israel, the West Bank and the Muslim world are expected to gather for prayers en masse at al-Aqsa during the last ten days of the month, the holiest period of the holiday.
For a month each year, particularly over the course of Ramadan’s final ten days, the culmination of the Muslim holy month of fasting, a remarkable religious event by any standard takes place in Jerusalem. Alongside the traditional prayers at al-Aqsa, the Old City of Jerusalem is dressed in its finest while the markets pulsate with life, full of commercial activity as well as social and cultural gatherings. This is the largest annual religious and tourist event in Jerusalem.
This year, Jerusalem Day falls during these final 10 days of Ramadan. In spite of this coalescence of events, the religious Right still insists on marching their annual Jerusalem Day flag parade through the heart of the Muslim Quarter. Even without its convergence with Ramadan, the flag parade imposes a siege on the Muslim quarter’s residents, who are forced to shutter themselves in their homes until the storm passes. As documented in extensive photographic and video footage, the parade is rife with violent acts and racist slurs, some of which are overt, while others are encoded in well-known biblical verses that receive contemporary nationalistic interpretation.
This year, due to its intersection with the peak of Ramadan, this is a particularly severe blow. The insistence on the parade traversing through the Muslim Quarter, even under these circumstances, undoubtedly reveals the intentions of the parade organizers, in light of the existing two alternative routes – through the Jaffa Gate or the Dung Gate – from which the parade can reach the Western Wall plaza without colliding head-on with the holiday atmosphere in the Muslim Quarter and its ways of life.
The High Court of Justice, under the panel of justices Sohlberg, Willner and Grosskopf, rejected a joint petition by Ir Amim and prominent public figures demanding the parade be diverted from the Muslim Quarter this year given the unique circumstances. The petition included testimonies from Muslim Quarter shop owners citing the parade’s harm to their income and personal security, as well as a religious analysis provided by the head of the Sharia Court. The justices chose not to intervene in the deliberations of the police, who assert they can adequately secure the simultaneous occurrence of both events. This issue, however, has far greater public and moral implications than those of security – and therefore, the public struggle continues unabated.
Contrary to the impression that the parade organizers – the Am K’Lavie (Nation of Lions) organization and its supporters – are trying to create, the flag parade is not an official event, nor is it a consensual one, even if it receives public funding. This is a private event organized and facilitated by a private organization attempting to dictate the character of Jerusalem.
Over the past few years, dozens of events have sprung up throughout the city, which seek to create a different character for Jerusalem Day and are attended by thousands of residents and social activists, both religious and secular. They possess differing opinions about the city’s political future, yet all share in the recognition of its multi-national and multi-religious nature. This year alone, some 80 alternative events are scheduled.
A recent public opinion poll conducted by HaGal Ha’Chadash (The New Wave) among the adult Israeli public shows that nearly 60% of the respondents are opposed to the parade passing through the Muslim Quarter amid the peak days of Ramadan, believing that it will heighten tensions in Jerusalem while negatively impacting relations between its communities.
Within religious social media networks, there is active debate on the topic, and major figures from the religious community have penned a letter calling on the authorities to prevent the parade from going through the Muslim Quarter. In recent days, graduates of religious education institutions have also published posts describing the feelings of discomfort they experienced when participating in past parades. These feelings are familiar to me personally as a graduate of religious education. This debate is also being waged within the ultra-Orthodox community.
From year to year, the nature of the parade is increasingly exposed and more and more groups oppose it, however a polite call to reduce the incidents of hatred and aggression displayed during the flag parade should not suffice. Entering the Muslim Quarter at this time and in such a way is an aggressive and provocative act that fosters an incendiary environment and leads to the problematic phenomena witnessed in the past parades. Only diverting the march from the Muslim Quarter will prevent these incidents.
Jerusalem’s great challenge is to transform its religious and national diversity from a source of tension and violence into a cultural and spiritual wealth. If we succeed, it will be the real reason to celebrate Jerusalem.
The writer is the executive director of Ir Amim.
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