On the sidelines of the march, spectators take sides

A flag march in the Old City turned into half a political rally for MK Itamar Ben Gvir.

Hundreds march to the Old City with Israeli flags. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Hundreds march to the Old City with Israeli flags.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)

Several hundred demonstrators waved flags and marched through the Jaffa Gate without major incident, in what became a half flag march and half political rally for MK Itamar Ben Gvir.

The entrance to the Old City market at Jaffa Gate was blocked by police, and the protesters were diverted to the Armenian Orthodox Patriarchate Road.

Right-wing activists had originally planned for the march to go through Damascus Gate, but the police vetoed that route, and were able to stop a few demonstrators who nevertheless tried to go through the gate that leads directly into the Muslim Quarter.

Ben Gvir was cheered as he arrived at Safra Square amidst chants of “Ben Gvir for prime minister,” “Bennett go home” and “journalists are leftists.” Surrounded by demonstrators waving flags, he made his way around the square, stopping every so often to talk to the media.

Chastising Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, Ben Gvir said the prime minister had raised the white flag at the Temple Mount, and insisted to the last minute that he had not been told he would not be able to march to Damascus Gate. But then led the march to Jaffa Gate where he was also surrounded by supporters and security.

 Ben Gvir attends the flag march to the Old City. (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM) Ben Gvir attends the flag march to the Old City. (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)

Tensions have been high in the Old City, as clashes with Palestinian demonstrators at the Temple Mount broke out over the Passover holiday week while police cleared the way for Jews to visit the site holy to both Jews and Muslims.

Over 300 Palestinians have been injured, most of them slightly, in daily clashes there and in the Old City that began on Friday.

Sensitivities have been particularly high, in light of Ramadan overlapping with Passover.

As the protesters gathered in front of the municipality building, holiday visitors to the city strolled along nearby pedestrian Ben-Yehuda Street, eating ice cream and French fries as klezmer bands played on several corners.

Describing herself as a “follower of the messiah” one tourist from the US said she believed in God’s call to love one’s enemy.

“Doing things like this is just incitement and brings more hatred,” she said. “I understand the hurt on both sides.”

Holding one of the large Israeli flags that were distributed, 38-year-old Aaron Yerushalmi from Jaffa said he had come to Jerusalem specifically to participate in the march.

“I think the Palestinian Arab violence is supposed to make us uncomfortable in our own country, and I want to feel comfortable in my country,” he said. “And feeling comfortable means being able to fly the Israeli flag in the eternal capital of Israel in the city of Jerusalem. The fact of our presence here is enough to incite the Arabs.”

“We didn’t come here to do any provocations or make problems for the police,” said his mother, Aliza, 71. “But we want to show we also are here and this is our country, and I won’t be afraid to raise the flag here.”

Walking through the gathering crowd, tourist Stephanie Listokin, from Newton, Massachusetts, said she had just been through the Old City with her family visiting the different quarters.

“I feel mixed because I love and support Israel,” said Listokin, 46, who is Jewish. “But I wonder where is the line between intentional provocation versus a simple love of Israel.”

One Jerusalemite who works downtown called the march a “fascist demonstration.”

Malka Dasa, 24, from Rishon L’Zion, said she had just seen the flags waving as she came to catch the light rail after visiting the Western Wall and decided to join.

“This is our place, our country, and we can go everywhere,” she said. “They can’t stop us at the Temple Mount.”

Noga, 62, from Tel Aviv, complained that the police protected the Arabs rather than the Jews.

“Here you have to be afraid in your own country, you need to have eyes in the back of your head when you walk the streets,” she said. “Nobody wants us in this world and we have to protect ourselves.”

Hurrying on his way to his home near Safra Square before the march began, Meir, 47, said he wasn’t happy with the demonstration.

“This is not a positive thing for the city, it does not add anything to life in the city,” he said. “I am not happy with violence on either side. There is a more positive way to live here. Most of the people here are not from Jerusalem. It looks like this has to do more with national politics of the Knesset versus the government more than anything else.

Groups of young men wearing kippot sang and jumped, dancing with their flags throughout the route.

From a shop just inside Jaffa Gate, a Palestinian customer watched as the dancing and chanting increased with the flags raised in the air.

“People can say what they want, but tell me this is not incitement,” he said.

With the entrance blocked off by police into the Old City market inside Jaffa Gate, the march made its way through the Armenian Quarter, the square inside Jaffa Gate cleared out, pedestrian traffic returned, and tourists sat down at a restaurant to eat falafel.