This story originally appeared in Mondoweiss on June 15, 2021, and is shared with permission.
Thousands of Israelis participated in the ultra-nationalist “Flag March” in occupied Jerusalem on Tuesday, marching through the streets of the city chanting “Death to Arabs” and other racist anti-Palestinian slogans.
An estimated 5,000 Israelis, primarily youth, belonging to far-right and ultra-nationalist groups participated in the provocative parade, which is held every year in commemoration of Israel’s occupation of the city in 1967—a move celebrated by Israelis as the “unification” of Jerusalem, though recognized by the international community as illegal annexation.
Hordes of Israeli demonstrators, under the protection of hundreds of armed Israeli troops, waved Israeli flags and chanted nationalist slogans as they marched from West Jerusalem to the eastern part of the city.
Outside the Damascus Gate, the entrance to the Muslim quarter of the Old City, crowds of Israelis danced, waved Israeli flags, and chanted racist slogans.
Among the chants that were reported were “Death to Arabs,” “may your village burn,” and “a second Nakba is coming,” referring to the nakba, or ‘catastrophe’ in Arabic, when thousands of Palestinians were massacred by Zionist militias and over 750,000 were forcibly expelled from their homes in 1948.
Among the participants of the march were right-wing Israeli lawmakers and members of parliament including Bezalel Smotrich, Shlomo Karai, Itamar Ben Gvir and Orit Struck, the Times of Israel reported.
Palestinian counter-protesters gathered outside the Damascus Gate area, but were violently dispersed by Israeli police, who fired sponge-tipped bullets and skunk water at Palestinian crowds.
Videos also showed Israeli police violently snatching Palestinian flags away from Palestinian protesters, while Israeli demonstrators waved Israeli flags and chanted racist slogans in the background.
The Palestinian Red Crescent reported that 33 Palestinian protestors were wounded by Israeli police, including six who were taken to the hospital. Israeli media reported that at least 17 Palestinian protesters were also arrested. There were no reports of arrests among Israeli demonstrators.
Earlier in the day Israeli forces enforced widespread closures of streets in Palestinian neighborhoods in East Jerusalem, while Palestinians in the Old City were advised to close down their shops and stay at home to avoid harassment and vandalism from Israeli demonstrators—a common occurrence during the annual march.
Israeli media reported that there were around 2,000 Israeli troops stationed in the city. According to Wafa news agency Israeli authorities summoned Palestinian leaders in the city for interrogation leading up to the march.
Meanwhile in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip thousands of Palestinians protested in a “Day of Rage” that was called by Palestinian political factions in response to the march. The Palestinian Red Crescent reported over 50 injuries in the West Bank and Gaza.
In the city of Bethlehem, hundreds of Palestinians marched through the city waving Palestinian flags and chanting national slogans, before they were met with intense tear gas fire from Israeli forces.
“We are here to show our support for our people for Jerusalem and show them that we are with them. From here, to Jerusalem, to Gaza, we are all one Palestinian people,” Mohammed Hameida, a resident of Bethlehem told Mondoweiss.
“The flag march is only intended to provoke us, and is part of the constant Israeli aggression against us. The only flag that has the right to fly over Jerusalem is the Palestinian flag, any other flag is the flag of the occupier.”
Palestinian groups including the Hamas movement warned that the demonstration could reignite tensions amid a shaky ceasefire that was called at the end of last month, following an 11-day offensive on Gaza that killed 253 Palestinians, including 66 children. At least 13 Israelis were killed by rocket fire from Gaza.
In addition to days of violent Israeli raids on the Al-Asqa compound at the end of Ramadan, and ongoing efforts to expel Palestinian families in Sheikh Jarrah, one of the catalysts for last month’s war in Gaza was the flag march, which was initially planned for May 10th.
The initial march was rerouted not to enter Damascus Gate or pass through the Muslim Quarter to avoid sparking further tensions. Shortly after the march began, however, it was called off as the first rockets were fired from Gaza into Israeli territory.
Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh condemned the march before it set off on Tuesday afternoon, saying “this is a provocation of our people and an aggression against our Jerusalem and our holy sites.”
Senior Hamas official Mousa Abu Marzouk said of the march that “our decision is already made that it is possible the war will return” if Israel continues to carry out “its usual activities.
Palestinian MK and leader of the Joint List Ayman Odeh condemned the march, and spoke to the Israeli Kan public broadcaster from outside the Old City, saying “On these [Old City] walls the flag of Palestine will be hoisted and Jerusalem will be the capital of recaptured Palestine.”
Mansour Abbas, leader of the United Arab List and member of the newest governing coalition in Israel said that the march should not have taken place, calling it “an unbridled provocation, which is based on shouts of hatred and incitement to violence, and an attempt to set the area on fire for political reasons.”
Tensions have remained high in Jerusalem in the wake of last month’s ceasefire, as Israel has continued to promote its plans for settler takeover in the Jerusalem neighborhoods of Sheikh Jarrah and Silwan.
In the weeks since the ceasefire, Israeli forces have arrested thousands of Palestinians across Israel and the occupied territory, issued demolition orders in East Jerusalem, violently suppressed Palestinian protests across the occupied territory, and most recently, shot and killed a 15-year-old Palestinian boy in Nablus.