JERUSALEM — Prime Minister Naftali Bennett on Monday defended the decision to hold an annual march to celebrate the Israeli occupation of East Jerusalem, marked by violence and anti-Palestinian racism.
Authorities called in thousands of police, forcibly cleared Palestinians and risked another war with the Islamist militant group Hamas to ensure tens of thousands of mostly right-wing Israelis could march through dense Palestinian neighborhoods, Hundreds of people can visit a competitive shrine.
Israel reversed course at the last minute in 2021, when tensions soared over violence in the Holy Land and settler attempts to evacuate dozens of Palestinian families from their East Jerusalem homes. Hamas still fires rockets, and an 11-day war in Gaza ensues.
Israel avoided that this year and allowed the procession to follow its traditional route through the heart of the Muslim quarter of the Old City.
But the march saw Israeli nationalists chanting racist slogans including “Death to the Arabs” and attacking Palestinians and journalists. Fighting took place along the way, with police intervening mainly to protect Jews and disperse Palestinians.
The Palestine Red Crescent relief agency said 62 Palestinians were injured, 23 of whom required hospital treatment. Israeli police said they had arrested more than 60 suspects and injured five officers. The vast majority of those arrested appeared to be Palestinians, but police declined to provide details.
Bennett praised the police’s handling of the incident and said Israel was obliged to march in the face of the threat from Hamas.
“If we don’t follow the usual course, we will — in fact — never go back in time,” he said. “It could be a step back in sovereignty.”
Bennett praised the marchers, saying: “Apart from extremist groups that we will deal with to the fullest extent the law allows, those who celebrated yesterday did so in a very special and uplifting way.”
Israel occupied East Jerusalem, including the Old City and its holy sites sacred to Jews, Christians and Muslims, and annexed it in the 1967 war, a move that has not been recognized internationally. Palestinians want East Jerusalem to be the capital of their future state.
Also on Sunday, Israel allowed hundreds of mostly nationalist and religious Jews to visit the holy site known to Jews as the Temple Mount and to Muslims as the compound of the Al-Aqsa Mosque. The site is the holiest site for Jews and the third holiest site in Islam, and is often the center of Israeli-Palestinian violence.
Palestinians fear Israel plans to take over or divide the site. Israel said it was committed to a decades-old arrangement known as the status quo, under which Jews could visit the site but not pray there — a rule that has been gradually weakened in recent years. Some tourists on Sunday were seen praying with little police intervention.
“Despite the enormous efforts of far-right activists, Sunday’s flag parade in Jerusalem’s Old City did not lead to major clashes between Israel and the Palestinians,” Amos Harrell told Haaretz in Israel. wrote in an op-ed. “Instead, we have witnessed the usual displays of racism, violent scuffles between Jews and Arabs, and general disgust.”
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