Some 50,000 Israelis join Jerusalem Day flag march, scuffles erupt in Old City

Jewish visitors to the Temple Mount raised Israeli flags and sang "Hatikva" at the site. | Palestinian protest on Gaza border.

The Jerusalem Day flag march at the Damascus Gate, May 18, 2023 (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
The Jerusalem Day flag march at the Damascus Gate, May 18, 2023
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)

About 50,000 Israelis gathered in Jerusalem for the Jerusalem Day flag march on Thursday, with police working throughout the day to break up scuffles that broke out between Jews, Arabs and journalists.

The march was conducted on its traditional route, departing from the center of the city along King George and Agron streets before splitting into two, with men continuing through Damascus Gate and the Muslim Quarter and women continuing through Jaffa Gate before meeting up again at the Western Wall.

A number of Jews carrying Israeli flags headed to the Damascus Gate area ahead of the flag march, with scuffles breaking out in the area between Jews, Arabs and police. Scuffles between Jews and Muslims were also reported in additional locations throughout the Muslim Quarter of the Old City.

 A man walks his dog wrapped in an Israeli flag in Jerusalem on Jerusalem Day, May 18, 2023 (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM) A man walks his dog wrapped in an Israeli flag in Jerusalem on Jerusalem Day, May 18, 2023 (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)

Journalists covering the flag march were attacked by right-wing participants of the march near the Damascus Gate on Thursday afternoon, with participants jeering at them and hitting them with various objects.

Participants carrying flags of the far-right Lehava movement could be seen on a livestream using flag poles to jab at the journalists and displaying their middle fingers at the journalists. Various items, including water bottles, were thrown back and forth between the journalists and the participants as well as police worked to separate the two groups. At least one journalist was arrested.

A group of children who gathered in front of the journalists chanted "Arabs are sons of b&%*$es" and jeered at the journalists. After being smacked by one of the flags, one of the journalists could be seen grabbing the flag and pushing it to the side while saying "beware of me."

The police stated that they arrested two of the participants who attacked the journalists. One of the suspects, a minor, was also carrying a knife in their bag.

While marching through the Old City, some of the participants chanted racist slogans including "May your village burn." Some of the participants also carried a large flag with a sketch of the Jewish Temple with text in Arabic reading "the Universal House of God."

"Jerusalem is ours," said National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir at the start of the march. "Whoever threatens us should know that the people of Israel live."

 Israelis gather by Damascus gate to Jerusalem's Old city as they mark Jerusalem Day, in Jerusalem May 18, 2023. (credit: RONEN ZVULUN/REUTERS) Israelis gather by Damascus gate to Jerusalem's Old city as they mark Jerusalem Day, in Jerusalem May 18, 2023. (credit: RONEN ZVULUN/REUTERS)

At the ending ceremony at the Western Wall, Ben-Gvir stated "How beautiful to see tens of thousands, in the Old City, on the way to the [Western] Wall. How beautiful to see our flags, the blue and white flag. Today we say to Hamas who threatened us, to the terrorists who threatened us, Jerusalem is ours. We will continue to love Jerusalem, we will continue to dream of Jerusalem, we will continue to be and live in Jerusalem."

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke at the government ceremony for Jerusalem Day at Ammunition Hill on Thursday evening, stating "Despite the threats, and I will tell you, because of the threats, I instructed to hold the flag march with the participation of thousands on its [traditional] route, as usual and according to procedure."

"We dealt heavy blows to our aggressors in the Gaza Strip, and I believe that the message was received not only by them, [but] also in other places in our region, who witnessed the impressive operational capabilities of the State of Israel. If another reminder is required to renew the deterrence - it will also come. We changed the equation."

President Isaac Herzog spoke at the ceremony as well, stating "If there is one thing that the eternal journey of Jerusalem teaches us - as a society and as a country - it is that there is only one way to walk on this path, together. Precisely on Jerusalem Day, I cannot help but remind us all of the saying of our sages, of blessed memory, according to which gratuitous hatred destroyed Jerusalem, and to emphasize - gratuitous hatred is not only a cause, but also a result of its own."

Hadash-Ta'al MK Ofer Cassif took part in a protest against the flag march, saying "The march of hate in occupied east Jerusalem is no different from the marches of neo-Nazis in the USA or fascists in Europe. 'Flag dances' - racist terrorist demonstrators."

Before the flag march, left-wing protesters blocked the Tunnel Road toward Jerusalem. A number of the protesters were arrested.

Palestinians gather along Gaza border to protest flag march

Palestinian protesters gathered along the Gaza-Israel border, east of Gaza City, on Thursday afternoon, burning tires and waving Palestinian flags in protest against the Jerusalem Day flag march. A number of protesters climbed onto the border fence and hung Palestinian flags on the fence.

The IDF stated that dozens of rioters gathered along the border fence and threw explosive devices towards the fence. No Israeli forces were injured. Israeli forces used riot dispersal methods and live fire against the rioters.

Salah al-Bardawil, a member of Hamas’s political bureau, warned on Wednesday that “the march of the Zionist flags will not pass, and the response will inevitably come,” according to Arabic-language media.

The defense establishment is also preparing for the possibility of rocket fire from Gaza during the flag march. On Tuesday, Hamas’s al-Qassam Brigades published a social media post featuring al-Aqsa Mosque with rockets flying in the background and the text “the Sword of Jerusalem [the name used by Palestinian factions for Operation Guardian of the Walls] will not be sheathed.”

In Jerusalem, a number of Palestinian flags were attached to balloons and launched in a number of locations around the city, according to video shared by Palestinian media. A number of Palestinians also gathered down the street from the Damascus Gate and waved Palestinian flags.

Between 3,200 and 3,500 Israel Police officers and volunteers will operate throughout the city to secure the revelries and direct traffic, with 2,500 allocated to the Flag March alone. As of Tuesday, fifteen suspects had been arrested and 37 others were issued restraining orders ahead of Jerusalem Day. Police stressed that the march will not enter the Temple Mount or any of its gates.

Police called on marchers and the rest of the public to obey police instructions and to avoid any manifestation of physical or verbal violence. “Disturbances and manifestations of violence of any kind will be dealt with decisively by the police forces,” stressed Chief Superintendent Yoram Segal from the Jerusalem District Police.

Jewish visitors to the Temple Mount raise Israeli flags, sing 'Hatikva'

Jewish visitors to the Temple Mount raised the Israeli flag while singing "Hatikva," as over a thousand Jews visited the complex on Jerusalem Day on Thursday.

Video from the scene showed a man carrying a small flag while the group walking with him sang the Israeli national anthem. The man carrying the flag was detained. At least three additional individuals raised Israeli flags on the Mount on Thursday as well.

Jewish visitors raise an Israeli flag on the Temple Mount on Jerusalem Day, May 18, 2023. (Credit: Avraham Bloch/Maariv)

A number of ministers and MKs visited the Temple Mount on Thursday, including Negev and Galilee and National Resilience Minister Yitzhak Wasserlauf (Otzma Yehudit) and Likud MKs Dan Illouz, Ariel Kallner and Amit Halevi.

"The Temple Mount is the holiest place for the Jewish people," said Illouz. "It's not my first time there and I'm always excited to go up the Mount. It is inconceivable to accept a claim as if the presence of Jews in a certain place, especially in the holiest place for the people of Israel, is an extreme act. As someone who immigrated to Israel from abroad, to the state of the Jews, out of deep Zionism, I cannot accept an argument that says that the very presence of Jews in a certain place is a provocation. This is unacceptable. I intend to ask God in this holy place to work for the unity of Israel and for the prosperity of the State of Israel in the face of many challenges facing us."

During the visits, Israeli police arrested a number of al-Aqsa guards, according to Palestinian reports.

Degel Hatorah chairman Moshe Gafni called on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to ban MKs from visiting the Temple Mount, stressing that such visits can affect diplomatic relations, incite Muslims and "desecrates the sanctity of the site."

Jerusalem Post Staff contributed to this report.