Violence afoot

A few events will try to restore the meaning of Jerusalem Day to a less politically sensitive tenor and to offer the public different ways to celebrate the occasion.

Jerusalem Day (photo credit: ILLUSTRATIVE: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Jerusalem Day
On Monday, the High Court decided not to alter the route of the traditional Jerusalem Day march through the Muslim Quarter but requested that the police prevent any acts of violence and arrest any provocateurs.
The first time that a procession of Jewish youth marched inside the Old City was in 1968, a year after the Six Day War, to celebrate the return of Jewish presence and sovereignty to the holy sites in the Old City. Rabbi Zvi Yehuda Kook, the head of the religious Zionist Merkaz Harav Yeshiva, initiated the march of thousands of students from the yeshiva in Jerusalem and from across the country. The march was held at night, after the ceremony and evening prayer service, and passed through the city center, from Sacher Park to Safra Square. From there, the marchers split into several groups, which walked through several gates and ultimately met up at the plaza of the Western Wall.
Over the years, a few changes have been introduced. First, in order to attract more people to join, the time of the march was changed to daytime.
And as of 2005, women and men march separately and reach the Kotel from separate gates. In recent years, another change has occurred. There has been friction and even violence and riots among some of the marchers and Arab residents of the Old City, especially the Muslim Quarter. While in the first decades after 1967 Jewish presence in the Old City existed only in the renovated Jewish Quarter, today there are many Jewish residents in the Muslim Quarter as well, and their presence there is cited as one of the reasons not to desist from marching through it.
Most of the violence has occurred during the past five years or so, and it is becoming more acute and dangerous, with young yeshiva students shouting anti-Muslim slogans and cursing the Arab residents, defaming the Muslim religion and their prophet. Last year, the riots reached boiling point with a group of Jewish youth holding Israeli flags insulting the Arabs and chanting “Death to the Arabs” in front of the Arab residents.
The police, which escorts the march, has never arrested any of the rioters, but it forces the Muslim merchants to close their shops during the march, an action that has never been officially requested through a court ruling but has incited much anger among the Arab residents.
Although all parties agree that the Jewish rioters are a minority among the march participants, the damage is serious and the risk that it could lead to a general eruption of violence on both sides is a concern for the authorities.
Last year, a group of residents identified with left-wing activists and organizations tried to organize an alternative march that would prevent the sensitive encounter in the Muslim Quarter, but it was planned too late and did not really work out. Nevertheless, all those involved in the initiative decided that next year – meaning now – they would organize it earlier and reach out to as large a public as possible.
Among others, three organizations are involved in the attempt to counter the religious Zionist march: Tag Meir, Ir Amim and the Yeru- Shalem Coalition. There were a few ideas about how to proceed, besides calling upon the police to take action to prevent any damaging acts of hatred. Among other things, a petition to the High Court was submitted, requesting a ruling to change the route of the march so that it would not go through the Muslim Quarter at all, which was not granted.
Eliaz Cohen, a resident of Kfar Etzion and one of the founders of the Tag Meir group, was opposed to the petition to the court, invoking the organization’s basic principle “to add light wherever there is darkness of hatred” and not to openly oppose any such action.
Meanwhile, on the eve of Jerusalem Day, which is Sunday (May 17), a few events will take place in the city to try to restore the meaning of this day to a less politically sensitive tenor and to offer the public – not only the religious sector – different ways to celebrate the occasion.
Nevertheless, other activists plan to participate in the march, especially in the Muslim Quarter, and take photos and videos of what goes on there. They hope that their presence will prevent acts of violence or vandalism.
The criticism of the vandalism and riots against Arab residents during the march also comes from many in the religious Zionist sector, but so far nothing has succeeded in preventing these actions from happening again.
The major event will be held on Sunday at 8:30 p.m. at the First Station and will culminate with a joint prayer by representatives of the three monotheistic religions of the region, with sheikhs and imams, rabbis and priests, as well as Hadassa Froman, the widow of Rabbi Menachem Froman, who was one of the most avid opponents of the attacks and vandalism against Arab residents in the Old City during the march.