J'lem March draws some 70,000 people

Jlem March draws some 7

The annual Jerusalem March went off without any noticeable hitches Tuesday, as some 2,000 police officers deployed throughout the capital to protect the 70,000 marchers, following the recent violence in and around the Old City. The march, which is held during the intermediate days of Succot, began early in the morning at Ammunition Hill. Thousands of marchers embarked on a 12-kilometer route past Mount Scopus and the Old City before heading to Sacher Park, near the capital's Nahlaot neighborhood, where thousands more joined the parade for its final jaunt toward Zion Square. A group of marchers also set out on another, shorter route, which began at the Armon Hanetziv promenade and also made its way toward the park. Fearing a resumption of the recent Arab disturbances in the capital, police officers escorted the marchers and were prepared for all developments, but the parade proceeded without incident. The roads along the route of the march, including Bezalel, King George and Agron, were closed to traffic. Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat spoke at the march, welcoming the many foreign guests and saying that he did not believe the clashes in the eastern parts of the city would turn into a third intifada. He expressed hope that "provocations" in the city would be cast aside, asserting that violence in the holy city was "not in the best interests of Israel or the Palestinians."   A heavy police presence was seen in the Silwan neighborhood and other areas around the Old City, as marchers made their way past. Silwan residents, however, stayed away from the passersby. "We don't want any trouble," said a Silwan shopkeeper in the Wadi Hilweh section of the neighborhood Tuesday morning. "If they're marching through, so let them march. We just want to go on with our lives and not be disturbed." For their part, marchers, many of whom came from other parts of the country, seemed overwhelmingly enthusiastic to be outdoors and to see views of the capital they weren't usually exposed to. "It's a great way to celebrate Succot, as it recreates the pilgrimage to Jerusalem," one participant said of the march. "Being in a group like this makes it easier to imagine the teeming masses that would descend on Jerusalem during Temple times." Along the way, marchers were treated to explanations by guides who were stationed at key historic sites. Even a brief, early-autumn rain, which began to fall on them a couple of hours into their trek, didn't dampen their spirits. Jerusalemites lined the streets to cheer on Rafael, Israel Aerospace Industries and El Al employees singing folk songs and playing tambourines, but saved their most vocal appreciation for the thousands of evangelical Christians who massed in Israel for the Festival of Tabernacles and who were marching to show their support for the Jewish state. In addition to representatives of all major European and North and South American countries, participants this year included a lone marcher from Nepal, a delegation from Papua New Guinea and a large group from Indonesia, the world's largest Muslim state. Scottish-born Barclay Stevenson, who has been living in Norway since he met his wife there over 40 years ago, had trouble recalling whether this was the third or fourth time that he was participating in the march, but was certain that his involvement was important.  Stevenson, who said he believes Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is doing a "good job in one of the hardest jobs in the world," said he sees the situation in Israel as a fight between Judaism and Islam, with both sides claiming historical justification for ownership - but the Bible proves that the Jews are right. His pro-Israel views are not widespread in Norway beyond the evangelical community, he noted. "People at my work don't understand my views," he said. "The Norewgian media is pro-Palestinian, and the news shapes the public perception. There's always broadcasts showing the suffering of Palestinian children, but barely anything about Israelis." Beto Cortez, a 30-year-old Sao Paolo resident who was participating in the march as part of the hundreds-strong Brazilian delegation, said that in his country too, the mainstream media shaped a public impression of Israel that was quite different from what he has discovered during his visit. "This is my first time in Israel, and I am so moved," he said. "In the city where I live, the majority of the people are neither politicized nor spiritual. The people understand what they hear from the media, and while the media claim to be impartial, they convey the impression that Israel is aggressive, and tries to attack and conquer territory. "Here I have learned that this is not the case - and that Israel is acting to defend itself." Cortez says that when he returns to Sao Paolo, he plans on working harder to help change people's perceptions about Israel. Jerusalem Post staff contributed to this report.