Israel police stop settlers march in Jerusalem after ‘racist chants’

The march had initially been approved despite concerns over potential violence during the war on Gaza.

Israeli police confiscate racist banners from demonstrators in tzahal square
Israeli police confiscate racist banners from demonstrators in West Jerusalem ahead of a planned march by settlers through the Old City of Jerusalem [Faiz ABu Rmeleh/Al Jazeera]

Jerusalem — About 200 Israeli settlers gathered in the centre of West Jerusalem on Thursday night, making provocative speeches as part of a march before Israeli police forcefully dispersed them.

The march was expected to head towards the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem and enter through Damascus Gate. But police said the marchers violated conditions that had been set for them by authorities, forcing them to crack down and cancel the permission that had been given for the march.

Similar marches by far-right groups through the Old City of Jerusalem have in the past frequently led to violence against Palestinians and heightened tensions. The Old City is part of East Jerusalem, which has been under illegal Israeli occupation since 1967.

Thursday’s march sparked even greater concerns about potential violence than usual because it was planned during Israel’s war on Gaza. Israel’s bombing and artillery fire has killed more than 17,000 people in Gaza since October 7 when Hamas fighters attacked southern Israel, killing 1,200 people and capturing 240 others.

“At first, racist chants were heard on the spot from some of the participants, and at one point, dozens of protesters disobeyed the instructions of the police officers on the spot and advanced without the permission of the police in a wild run for a short distance,” an Israeli police spokesperson said. “The police stopped them after a few tens of metres, and accordingly, an illegal assembly was declared by a police officer.”

“The Israel Police will continue to allow freedom of expression and protest within the limits of the law but will not allow the violation of public order contrary to the law.”

Speaking to Al Jazeera, one of the settlers attending the march described the group’s intent as “to get rid of the Muslim Waqf of the Temple Mount because the Temple Mount belongs only to the Jewish people”, referring to the Jordanian-appointed organisation that manages Al-Aqsa Mosque.

Al-Aqsa, one of Islam’s holiest sites, is also known as the Temple Mount and is a holy site for Jews. The site has been at the heart of tensions in Jerusalem for decades.

In recent years, settler attacks on Al-Aqsa Mosque have become more frequent, often backed by influential politicians such as Minister of National Security Itamar Ben-Gvir.

After Thursday’s march was cancelled, the Old City remained closed over fears that the settlers might enter and carry out attacks against residents.

Israel has faced growing criticism from its allies — in particular the United States — over violence and provocations by settlers in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem.

Source: Al Jazeera