Thousands of Israelis gathered on Sunday in Israel's capital to celebrate Jerusalem Day by marching through Jerusalem before ending the march at the Western Wall, the holiest site in Judaism and a symbol of Israeli and Jewish perseverance.
On Jerusalem Day, it is impossible to catch a view of the capital without an Israeli flag in sight. Whether they are draped over those on their way to the march, hoisted from lamp posts and buildings across the city or attached to car windows, blue and white is everywhere.
The annual celebration began in 1968, a year after Israel unified Jerusalem in the Six Day War. Also known as the Dance of Flags, some who attended said they did not view it as a march.
"It is not a march...for 30 years, it was known as the Dance of Flags internally," one marcher said, adding that it is part of the dance's tradition to "gradually make your way toward the Western Wall."
What are the Jerusalem Day marchers driven by?
Most of those who attended are not driven by hate for Palestinians, they stressed, rather by love for Israel and the constant fear it might not exist, or to acknowledge that Israeli sovereignty over a unified Jerusalem should not be taken for granted.
"What drives me is my love for the land," one marcher said. "It is important to show everyone that we are marching on Jewish land, which belongs to the Jews and no one else."
"It is important to show everyone that we are marching on Jewish land, which belongs to the Jews and no one else"Jerusalem Day flag march attendant, May 29
For them, Jerusalem Day is the only day in the year on which you can publicly express Zionism. Or, at least, a version of it. "There is only one day in the year in which I can act how I want to in Jerusalem, to march with flags and sing Eretz Yisrael songs," the marcher added. Those who criticize the march can "bite me," they said.
Another marcher, dismayed by the labeling of the parade as an inciting event that invites violence, bemoaned the "double standards" in comparison the LGBTQ+ pride parade. "When the gays march no one is insulted and no one gets hurt, but if we march with an Israeli flag everyone is suddenly very concerned."
"There are a lot of things I am offended by," one of the march attendants said. "But this march will carry on just like any other march."
He added those objecting to the march should "bite their tongue," calling for anyone offended by Jewish symbols being celebrated in the Jewish state to "go to another country where there are no Israeli flags."
"We are in a Jewish state and if anyone is offended by me flying the Israeli flag, they can get lost"Jerusalem Day flag march attendant, May 29
Another marcher, accompanied by his elderly father, jokingly stated he would personally purchase a one-way plane ticket for those who criticize the march.
"My father made Aliyah 32 years ago from Russia to live freely as a Jew in the Jewish state, he came to fly the Israeli flag with pride," the marcher said. "Anyone who has a problem with my father's decision to march on Jerusalem Day is welcome to deposit their blue ID at the Interior Ministry offices and leave."
Crowd chants "death to Arabs" during flag march
While thousands marched down Jerusalem's streets, joyfully dancing and singing to patriotic Israeli songs, others were chanting Islamophobic slogans such as "Mohammed is dead," "Mohammed is a son of a bitch" and calling for death to Arabs.
One marcher said he was reluctant to join the flag parade, afraid of being fired from his job if he was seen attending.
"I work with Arabs...and I am not one of those who chant 'death to Arabs,' but our reality here is tough and we all know who is to blame," he said.
"Everyone is too politically correct to say [Arabs are the problem] here, it is b******t, everyone knows the truth."
When asked what they feel regarding racist chants commonly heard at the march, another attendant said he "does not wish death upon anyone, not on a regular day and not on Jerusalem Day."
"However," they added, "The reality here is such that calling for terrorists to be killed is considered wrong while Jews are being murdered every couple of days," they stated while switching between 'Arabs' and 'terrorists,' terms that have become interchangeable in some parts of Israeli society.
Another person, when asked about chants calling for death to Arabs, simply replied: "Rightly so."
Exacting revenge on Arabs or celebrating Israel?
One Israeli at the march said anti-Arab chants are acceptable as "we need to exact revenge on the Arabs, considering everything that has happened lately," referring to the wave of terrorism that engulfed Israel in the last couple of months, which resulted in the murder of 20 civilians and security forces initiating Operation 'Break the Wave.'
"But today, it would be more appropriate to focus on our love for Israel rather than hate for our adversaries," she added, proudly displaying a "free Temple Mount" sticker placed on her upper right arm.
Another Israeli claimed that the Jerusalem Day flag march is a "reminder we need to protect ourselves...but with less physical violence."