Confrontation expected in Jerusalem as Netanyahu sanctions Flag Day march through Muslim Quarter

Israel’s Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu Monday 15th May, in what some would say was a deliberate act of provocation, confirmed on the day of the commemoration of the Palestinian Nakba,  that the controversial Israeli nationalist Flag Day march will be allowed to parade through the Muslim Quarter of the Old City in Jerusalem.

Ignoring the Palestinian Authority governed Exclusion Zone

The Flag Day has historically acted as a spark to provoke violent confrontation in an area supposedly controlled by the Palestinian Authority and meant to be an exclusion zone for all Jewish Israelis. As nationalist fervour has grown in recent years, the crude behaviour of the participants in the parade has also grown, with marchers, many intoxicated with alcohol, storming through Arab markets, overturning stalls, smashing shop and mosque windows. Some of them carry automatic weapons with which they threaten Palestinian traders unable to present any form of defence as Israeli soldiers look on, ready to respond if they do.

40,000 settlers invade Palestinian Market in Hebron

Just six months ago at the end of November 2022 at the end of the Jewish Sabbath day of Sarah, I arrived in the Old Palestinian Market, nestled in the Old City in Hebron. I was able to witness in person the aftermath of an invasion by 40,000 Israeli settlers, given carte blanche by the security forces to stray off the supposed designated safe route into key Palestinian community areas.

Traders describe the trauma of the Israeli settler invasion in the Hebron Market

Traders explained to our small group, which included renowned journalist Peter Oborne and University of London Professor of Law, Penny Green, that following a loud speaker announcement by soldiers the night before, which echoed throughout the market and which screamed that all shops must be closed, barriers were suddenly erected in a bid to drive a pathway through the market supposedly to provide a route for the marchers.  

 

Mosque windows smashed by invading settlers in Hebron Market

Needless to say, hours later the invading settlers completely ignored the designated route and proceeded to stampede into off-limit locations, hurling rocks at stallholders and smashing up vegetable stalls while they shouted offensive chants such as ‘Death to the Arabs’ and ‘May your village burn’. I recall that several Palestinians ended up in hospital including one elderly man who had suffered a heart attack. We were shown the broken windows of a Mosque and a number of damaged shop fronts as well as several damaged cars used by traders. As we looked up to the sky we were horrified to see that wire netting hung over the entire market, which had been erected, we were told, to prevent injury when settlers regularly hurled rocks down on the market traders and shoppers from above.

Stones thrown by settlers onto Palestinian traders and shoppers by nationalist settlers

Settlers empowered by appointment of Itamar Ben-Givr as National Security Minister

Attempts historically had been made to reduce the offensive nature of the language used by the settlers during these marches, to reduce tensions and prevent violent confrontation. There have even been High Court Orders threatening the organisers, which for a period were successful with some Palestinian shops feeling able to stay open as the marches proceeded. But this has since changed with the empowerment of the far-right movement and the appointment of one of its most outspoken champions, Itamar Ben-Givr as National Security Minister.  

If recent events during Ramadan at the Al Aqsa Mosque are anything to go by, the air assault on Gaza and recent incursions into the West Bank, we should expect abusive and violent confrontation to accompany this Flag Day march – encouraged and sanctioned by the state.

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