“Jerusalem Day” and its accompanying ‘flag march’ came and went in occupied East Jerusalem’s Old City, but, despite Israeli authorities breathing a sigh of relief that it did not trigger wider confrontations between Israel and the Palestinians, particularly Hamas in Gaza, the reality was a day of violence in which ultra-nationalist Jewish Israelis attacked countless Palestinians, many times under the eyes of Israeli police.
At least 81 Palestinians were wounded on Sunday by Israeli forces and far-right Jews in Jerusalem during and after the flag march, which marked the day Israel illegally occupied and annexed the city’s eastern half in 1967. Most Jewish Israelis view it as the day Jerusalem was “unified”.
The Palestinian Red Crescent told Al Jazeera that injuries during the day-long rally had been caused by rubber-coated bullets, beatings, pepper spray, and one case of live ammunition. At least 28 Palestinians were transferred to hospital for treatment.
Israeli police said that five of its officers were lightly injured.
At least 70,000 Israelis participated in the annual march, which has been described as a “racist” and “fascist” rally in and around the Old City of Jerusalem, and specifically passed through the Muslim Quarter, where shops were largely shuttered in preparation.
The march included the waving of Israeli flags and the singing of nationalistic songs, as well as the chanting of slogans such as “death to Arabs” and “may your villages burn down,” including in the OId City’s Muslim Quarter.
During the march, far-right Jews were witnessed assaulting Palestinian residents, as well as medics, and local and international journalists.
In one incident filmed and shared widely on social media, a Jewish man attacked and pepper-sprayed an elderly Palestinian woman in the face, causing outrage.
As she was carried out for treatment through the Old City’s Damascus Gate, another demonstrator used pepper spray against a young Palestinian, and then another pulled out a pistol and aimed it at journalists at the scene.
אישה ערביה נפגעה מגז פלפל שריסס יהודי בשער שכם, מספר צעירים ערבים פינו אותה כשבדרך הם תוקפים יהודים, אחד היהודים נלחץ ושלף נשק pic.twitter.com/ueA4bTmold
— חיים גולדברג (@haim_goldberg) May 29, 2022
While the march was set to end at approximately 9pm local time (18:00 GMT), attacks persisted late into the evening. Following the rally, large groups of ultra-nationalist Israelis rampaged through Palestinian neighbourhoods in East Jerusalem, and assaulted residents and their property.
‘Hatred and racism’
Jerusalem-based political analyst Nasser al-Hidmi described “the lawlessness and provocations of the settlers” on Sunday as a “very dangerous precedent”.
“The scenes we witnessed yesterday were catastrophic for Palestinian Jerusalemites and the Palestinian people as a whole,” al-Hidmi told Al Jazeera.
“It was very clear that the occupation’s government gave the reins to its settlers in order to carry out their assaults,” which he said “only come out of hatred and racism, which are rampant in Zionist society”.
Videos shared by residents, activists and journalists showed dozens of settlers smashing and vandalising Palestinian cars, throwing rocks at homes and assaulting residents, including with pepper spray.
Call it what it is: COLLUSION.
moment when settlers broke into Palestinian property in Silwan last night, proceed to attack homes, smash car & puncture tires.
Israeli forces seen chaperoning the raiding settlers, do not attempt to make a single arrest.pic.twitter.com/rN3ZDLsSqd
— Jalal (@JalalAK_jojo) May 30, 2022
Most of the attacks on Sunday took place inside the Old City, including the area of the Moroccan Gate next to the Al-Aqsa Mosque Compound, as well as Bab al-Zahira (Herod’s Gate), and Damascus Gate. Jewish marchers also poured into Salah al-Din Street, the main Palestinian commercial thoroughfare near the Old City, as well as the neighbourhoods of Sheikh Jarrah and Silwan, and carried out assaults.
كاميرات المراقبة توثق اعتداء المستوطنين أمس على منازل عائلة حليسي في منطقة النبي صهيون في بلدة سلوان جنوب المسجد الأقصى pic.twitter.com/IfyyOweE67
— AlQastal القسطل (@AlQastalps) May 30, 2022
[Translation: Surveillance cameras document the settler assault yesterday on the homes of the al-Halisi family in the area of Nabi Sahyoun in Silwan town, south of Al-Aqsa Mosque]
Israel passed a law in 1980 formally declaring both the eastern and western parts of the city as its “eternal, undivided capital”. The vast majority of the international community considers East Jerusalem occupied territory over which Israel has no legal sovereignty.
The flag march is seen as an attempt by Israel to assert its control over the occupied eastern half of the city. Palestinian residents of the western half of Jerusalem were forcibly displaced by Zionist militias during the 1948 war that created the state of Israel, and it is now almost entirely Jewish.
Jerusalem Day is Israel’s celebration of the ethnic cleansing of Palestine. Israelis rampage through the streets of the city, attack vendors chant “death to Arabs” and then go to Al Aqsa Mosque Compound calling for the destruction of the mosque. #SickSociety
— Diana Buttu (@dianabuttu) May 29, 2022
‘Israel’s PM approved this’
Israeli forces arrested at least 50 Palestinians throughout the day according to local sources, while less than a handful of Israelis were reportedly arrested, despite a number of attacks coming as Israeli police watched.
Al-Hidmi said Sunday’s rally, and the events that came before it – including settler raids into the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, the raising of the Israeli flag within it, and Jewish prayers at the site – “emboldened settlers to attack [Palestinian] Jerusalemites”.
“We witnessed the audacity of the settlers yesterday,” said al-Hidmi, explaining that they knew that they “would not be held accountable over the crimes they carry out.”
Prior to the rally, Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said that “raising the Israeli flag in the capital of Israel goes without saying … we were clear about the matter from the start”.
“Unfortunately, there is a minority that has come to set the area ablaze … trying to use force in order to ignite a conflict,” Bennett added after violence broke out.
However, a number of observers argued that the violence, and the people who committed it, represented a bigger segment of Israeli society than Bennett had implied.
“Israel’s prime minister approved this. Israel’s coalition approved this. Israel’s public security minister approved this. Israel’s police chief approved this. Jerusalem Day and its fascist ‘flag march’ is the work of the regime, not that of a few bad apples,” Edo Konrad, the editor-in-chief of the Israeli +972 Magazine, said on Twitter.
Israeli police said that they had arrested “more than 60 suspects” without specifying whether they were Israeli or Palestinian.
In a statement, it said that the individuals were arrested “in connection with various incidents of rioting, hurling stones, assaulting Israel Police officers and a number of other violent incidents”.
The Israeli Jerusalem District Commander, Doron Turgeman, said in a separate statement: “I express great appreciation to our commanders and the police officers who have operated in all sectors to maintain security, law and order.
“Tens of thousands came here today on Jerusalem Day to march, and it was our privilege to secure them along the parade route, as we have for decades.”
Israeli police did not respond to specific questions from Al Jazeera about the reason for their inaction as far-right Israelis attacked Palestinians.
Last year’s flag march provoked rocket fire from armed resistance groups Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad, based in the Gaza Strip. Israel responded by launching an 11-day military offensive against the besieged territory, in which more than 260 Palestinians, and 13 Israelis, were killed.