Israeli Chants Still Ringing in the Old City

  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

Jess Diez
Managing Editor & Research Associate, Middle East Policy Council

June 1, 2022

On Sunday, May 29, over 50,000 Jewish nationalists marched through Jerusalem’s Old City, passing mainly through the core of the Muslim Quarter in the annual Jerusalem Day march. This march marks the establishment of Israeli control over Jerusalem’s Old City following the 1967 Six Day War. Palestinians, however, often see the event as a provocation. Although many sang peaceful hymns and chanted unbiased slogans, a multitude of Israeli demonstrators shouted offensive anti-Arab chants and invoked major Palestinian-Israeli street clashes.

The Times of Israel called attention to the demeaning messages chanted and the verbal and physical attacks: “Throughout the parade in the Old City, hundreds of other marchers called out ‘May your villages burn’ and ‘Death to Arabs.’ ‘Shuafat is up in flames!’ other Jewish Israeli participants yelled, referring to Muhammad Abu Khdeir, a teenage resident of that Palestinian neighborhood in East Jerusalem who was burned to death by Jewish extremists in 2014…Other participants hurled slurs at Palestinian journalists on the scene, calling them ‘whores’ and ‘dogs.’ A large group of Jewish marchers mobbed a section of the plaza cordoned off for media, making obscene gestures at Arab journalists. ‘This is our land!’ several participants called at them.

Many have asserted that the Israeli flag march invokes derogatory acts and statements. Munir Nuseibah, a professor in Jerusalem’s Al-Quds University, told Al Jazeera that the march is an “expression of the apartheid regime…a regime that allows these ultra-right wing people to go through the streets of the Old City and to chant racist slogans against the Arabs, against the Muslims, against the Prophet Muhammad; to use violence against the people, even people who were inside their homes…I heard today from one of my colleagues that they sprayed pepper spray…through the windows into homes as they marched. While at the same time, simultaneously, we saw how the Israeli police suppressed Palestinians who were trying to raise the Palestinian flag.”

Writing for Al Monitor, journalist Mazal Mualem resurfaced memories of last year’s violent Jerusalem Day march, which sparked an 11-day war. Last year, “Hamas was able to establish a link between Jerusalem and Gaza. It threatened to fire missiles at Jerusalem if the parade took place, and it carried through with that threat. It was the opening salvo of Operation Guardian of the Walls in Gaza and a series of riots in Israel’s mixed, Arab-Jewish cities. It happened during the final days of Benjamin Netanyahu’s long tenure as prime minister. On this particular occasion, he took the advice of the security forces and gave orders to stop the parade. This year, as Jerusalem Day approached, the government debated whether the parade should be allowed to take place. The situation in Jerusalem was already tense, and there had been a wave of terrorist attacks over the past few months.”

Mualem further dove into the annual importance that the Israeli prime minister at that time must take to either allow or deny the march to proceed. This year, “seniors in the defense establishment and members of the political right took the position that the parade should take place. They argued that succumbing to pressure from Hamas could damage Israel’s ability to act as a deterrent. Prime Minister Bennett and Minister of Public Security Omer Bar Lev adopted this position while preparing an appropriate response if the parade led to violence in the region…It was a test for Bennett, who went from being the darling of the right to persona non grata in that camp. Had he canceled the parade, it would have proved what people say about him: He is weak, and he succumbs to every threat. The fact is that he didn’t even blink. Marchers filled the streets of Jerusalem yesterday afternoon, and the parade took place as planned.”

Prior to the march, Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett understood what his decision may negatively catapult into, and urged the demonstrators to maintain peace during the contentious parade. The Gulf News showcased Bennett’s concerns over clashes, in which Bennett said “‘flying the flag of Israel in the capital of Israel is an obvious thing,’ but also urged participants to celebrate in a ‘responsible and respectful manner.’ Bennett later issued a statement instructing police to show ‘no tolerance’ toward the racist groups. He described them as a ‘minority that came to set the area on fire’ and vowed to prosecute violent extremists—a step that few Israeli governments have taken in the past. Foreign Minister Yair Lapid called the racist groups “a disgrace.’”

However, in comparison to last year’s drastically negative turnout, Sunday’s events in the Old City were regarded as a relief by the Israeli government. Writing for Haaretz, Anshel Patel explained Israeli government officials’ viewpoint, coming to terms that for many, anything less violent than the recent 11-day war could be deemed as a success: “A shameful exhibition of racist taunting and violence by young Israeli marchers against Palestinian residents around Damascus Gate and in the narrow alleyways of Jerusalem’s Old City on Sunday looked very different from the more distant vantage point of the prime minister.”

  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

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