24 arrested, 3 wounded in Jerusalem Day skirmish

40,000 join flag parade marking anniversary of Six Day War; despite controversial route through Sheikh Jarrah, protesters face off near Old City.

Israel Flag March 311 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Israel Flag March 311
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Over 40,000 people marched through the streets of Jerusalem on Wednesday afternoon in a show of patriotism honoring the 44th anniversary of the Six Day War.
Dozens were arrested during the annual Flag Day parade, which marched through the east Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah in a departure from the route through the city center used in previous years.
Police increase presence for 44th J'lem Day events
Capital's severe housing shortage highlighted on J'lem Day
Despite the more controversial route, police said the biggest problems were in the area of the Damascus Gate and Rehov Hanevi’im, which are part of the permanent route used in previous years.
A total of 24 people were arrested for disturbing the peace, the majority of them Jewish, the police reported.
Three people were wounded from rocks thrown on Rehov Hanevi’im next to the Damascus Gate and Sultan Suleiman Street, one of whom was taken to the hospital with a head injury.
“In previous years we have also had problems and violence between the Arabs and the Jews, but in our opinion the number of arrests [this year] was not small, it was quite large,” Jerusalem police spokesman Shmuel Ben-Ruby said.
“Things were completely under control and different units responded in the way that’s appropriate, considering there were 40,000 people taking part. The streets in the Old City are very narrow, and tensions were high,” added Micky Rosenfeld, National Police spokesman.
The police had increased patrols of policemen, border police, undercover police and mounted patrols starting Tuesday morning.
The main route of the parade began in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood near the Shepherd Hotel. Thousands of participants thronged down Highway 1, waving flags and chanting “Am Yisrael Chai.”
Some participants chose to march into the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood on a parade route determined in cooperation with the police.
“This is what it needs to be,” City Councilor David Hadari (NRP-National Union) said of the decision to hold the main march inside Sheikh Jarrah.
“We need to celebrate and live and settle in every part of Jerusalem.
“I’m happy all the youth came here to celebrate our sovereignty in this area,” Hadari said, adding that he was working to expand the Jewish presence in Sheikh Jarrah.
Hadari said he was working with organizations who had already secured ownership of dozens of properties around the Shimon Hatzadik tomb, and that Jewish families would move into the neighborhood in as little as two years.
Even within Sheikh Jarrah, most of the march was peaceful, with ecstatic groups of young people cheering, singing and breaking into spontaneous dance.
Arab residents watched warily from the sides. “This year is much worse than other years,” said 37-year-old Sheikh Jarrah resident Samir, who watched the parade from his friend’s flower shop. “It sends a clear message.
Look at them, they’re celebrating...it’s a provocation. Why are they doing it in an Arab neighborhood?” he asked as a truck went by with a band of yeshiva students playing “Zeh Hamakom Sheli” (This is my place).
Samir said that in previous years, there had been small groups of young people who had marched around the neighborhood, but that this year was larger than any he could remember.
He added that Sheikh Jarrah residents did not know that the parade would be held inside their neighborhood until they saw police setting up barricades in the morning.
“There will be more problems, there will never be peace,” Samir said.
“They just came to make trouble, they scream ‘death to Arabs!’ and ‘Arabs are trash!’” The highest point of tension inside Sheikh Jarrah was at the tomb of Shimon Hatzadik, where 50 left-wing protesters, who demonstrated without a permit, faced off against 50 right-wing protesters while Jewish music blared from the speakers of the yeshiva next to the tomb. Police tried to separate the two groups.
Dozens of right-wing teenagers surrounded an Arab house after they said one of the children spat on them, and started hitting left-wing protesters who stood in front of the house with flag poles.
MK Michael Ben-Ari (National Union), denounced the left-wing protesters as “racist anarchists.”
“These racist Jews are fighting against Jews, and they should go home,” he told The Jerusalem Post.
Ben-Ari accused the left-wing activists of inciting the Arab residents and slammed the police for being too lenient with them.
In a separate incident, a marcher entered a mosque in Sheikh Jarrah with an Israeli flag and was arrested by police forces. The marcher was taken into custody for interrogation along with three others.
After the incident, Arab children climbed on top of the roof of a tall building next to the mosque and raised five Palestinian flags, prompting raucous boos from the thousands of demonstrators below.
Five marchers were arrested near the Damascus Gate for allegedly attempting to assault Arabs while calling out nationalistic slogans. A woman was also arrested in the area for yelling anti-Semitic epithets at marchers passing by.
Border police arrested seven people for throwing stones at police forces in the east Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan on Wednesday, as well. The suspects were taken into custody for interrogation.
Increased patrols of police, border police and volunteers were put in place in the capital until the conclusion of events on Wednesday.
The Flag March has taken place annually since 1976, as traditionally thousands of people marched from the city center down Rehov Yaffo to the Kotel.
This year, the municipality refused to halt the light rail tests for the parade, forcing Am K’Lavia (Nation Like a Lion), the parade organizers, to take the case to the Supreme Court. Ultimately, the parade was rerouted to begin in Sheikh Jarrah and end at the Kotel.
“This is not about the march making a controversial statement,” Meir Indor, an activist with Am K’Lavia and one of the parade organizers, told the Post before the parade. He said the route was decided as a “technical issue” due to the light rail, but that the parade organizers laughed when they saw how the parade would be rerouted.
“After all the protests from the anarchists, it’s time to show for once who this city really belongs to,” he said, referring to the weekly protests in the area by the Sheikh Jarrah Solidarity Movement.
“[The route] just shows how much Jerusalem is so tiny and so close to one another, if a big crowd wants to march, this is the place they choose. It shows how much the city is small and can never be divided,” Indor said.
He added that part of the route through Sheikh Jarrah would be following the path that the paratroopers took in 1967 on their way to Ammunition Hill.
Ben-Ruby said he did not know if the parade would use the same route in the coming year. He added that police would assess the security situation on Thursday to determine the additional patrols needed for Friday prayers and Sunday’s “Naksa Day,” when Arabs mark the “setback” anniversary of the Six Day War.
Jerusalem Post staff contributed to this report.