‘Standing Together’ against far-right Israeli hate in Jerusalem

A group of Jewish Israelis and Palestinians are taking on settlers and the orthodoxy of Israel’s far right.

Israelis march through the alleyways of Jerusalem's Old City to the Western Wall, waving Israeli flags on 'Jerusalem Day' to commemorate the establishment of Israeli control over the city.
Israelis hold flags as they make their way towards Damascus Gate for the annual Jerusalem Day march, amid the ongoing conflict in Gaza between Israel and Hamas, in Jerusalem, June 5, 2024 [Ammar Awad/Reuters]

Tens of thousands of mostly young, right-wing Israelis marched through occupied East Jerusalem’s Old City on Wednesday, brandishing Israeli flags and anti-Palestinian slogans at the people living in the Muslim Quarter.

The Old City was braced for the violence it has sadly become accustomed to during past marches, when marchers have physically attacked people, including Palestinian market-goers and journalists, in an attempt to enforce what they perceive as Israeli sovereignty over the occupied Palestinian territory.

But this year, standing in the way of the far-right marchers in an effort to protect innocent bystanders were around 60 activists of the Jewish-Palestinian activist group, Standing Together.

An unhappy, angry ‘victory’ march

The Flag March, part of Israel’s wider Jerusalem Day, has been growing since 1967, when a few religious students accompanied ultraorthodox nationalist Rabbi Zvi Yehuda Kook through the streets of Jerusalem to mark its capture from Jordanian forces.

The event has since swollen, there were up to 70,000 participants in 2022 when gangs of ultranationalist Israeli youth rampaged through the Old City.

More than 160 Palestinians were injured then, including those struck by live ammunition fired by police – and many needed hospital treatment.

The route itself, which deliberately traverses through the Muslim Quarter of the Old City, has long been a source of controversy.

Starting at Jerusalem’s Great Synagogue in the centre, marchers sing and dance through the city, accompanied by orchestras playing Yeshiva music on the back of trucks, before entering the Old City through either the Dung Gate or the Damascus Gate.

Then they proceed through the Muslim Quarter to get to the Western Wall.

The numbers for Wednesday’s march have yet to be tallied.

However, footage shows thousands of predominantly young men rampaging through the streets, targeting the people and journalists there.

“Hundreds of thugs arrived in Jerusalem in transports from the settlements, to go on a rampage in the Old City and attack Palestinian businesses, in front of the police. The activists of the humanitarian guard have been standing in front of them since the morning hours, to document, provide a protective presence, and force the police officers to do their duty.”

Standing Together

Co-director of Standing Together, 36-year-old Alon Lee Green says he was confronted by the school-age marchers, who had been bussed in from religious establishments across Israel and the occupied West Bank to march in Jerusalem.

“They would shout things at me, like: ‘You should be murdered by Hamas,’” he said.

Some of the group’s activists were slapped, and many were pushed around. Thankfully, none required medical treatment, Lee Green confirmed.

“We were especially worried about the Palestinian activists we had with us,” he said. “They’d made the decision to come and stand between the extreme right and the Old City’s Palestinians.

“That’s incredibly brave.”

In addition to the thousands of far-right Jews who flooded East Jerusalem’s Old City yesterday, were 3,000 or so police officers deployed in the area, ostensibly to keep order.

But, Standing Together says, since the appointment of far-right provocateur Itamar Ben-Gvir as minister of national security two years ago, the security forces have taken a tendency to support settlers and Jews during confrontationsw with Palestinians to new extremes.

“As a minister, Ben-Gvir isn’t supposed to control the police at any level beyond broad strategy, but he does,” Lee Green continued.

“Everyone from the head of police downwards knows their success, or otherwise, depends on supporting Ben-Gvir.

“He’s remade the police in his own image. We’ve lost them.”

Israel's National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir, attends the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, Sunday, Sept. 10, 2023
Israel’s National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir, attends the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem [File: Ohad Zwigenberg/Pool/AP Photo]

Speaking to crowds before the march, Ben-Gvir was unambiguous in his intent.

Addressing energised flag-waving throngs, he said the purpose of this year’s march was to signal to Hamas that “Jerusalem is ours.”

Earlier that day, Israeli media outlets reported that some 1,600 Jewish pilgrims had entered the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, one of the holiest sites in Islam that is known as Temple Mount to Jews.

Under the current legal status of the compound and in accordance with a rabbinic prohibition, Jews are forbidden from praying in it.

Nevertheless, according to reports, one Jewish activist wore tefillin, leather straps wrapped around the forearms, while walking around the site, constituting an act of worship in violation of Israeli law.

Speaking on Radio Galei Israel later that day, Ben-Gvir appeared to contradict both existing laws and the prime minister, telling listeners, “I am also happy that Jews went up to the Temple Mount and prayed there today,” he said, “It is very important. My policy is very clear on this matter: Jews can be anywhere in Jerusalem, pray anywhere.”

The growing extremes

Across Israel, figures like Ben-Gvir and fellow hardline Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, who also took part in yesterday’s march, are growing in influence.

From being historical outliers in previous governments, swelling support for hardline positions across much of society has catapulted their agenda to the heart of Israeli politics, establishing itself as an effective block on US ceasefire proposals and urging on the current assault on Gaza’s Rafah.

In recent weeks, Ben-Gvir used his influence over the police to effectively permit the pillaging of aid convoys to Gaza, a campaign overseen by the far right.

Standing Together, which has helped shield aid convoys to Palestine, said it witnessed what it described as police complicity in the attacks.

Israeli right-wing activists look at damaged trailer trucks that were carrying humanitarian aid supplies on the Israeli side of the Tarqumiyah crossing with the occupied West Bank on May 13, 2024, after they were vandalised by other activists to protest against aid being sent to the Gaza Strip. (Photo by Oren ZIV / AFP)
Israeli right-wing activists look at damaged trailer trucks that were carrying humanitarian aid supplies on the Israeli side of the Tarqumiyah crossing with the occupied West Bank on May 13, 2024, after other activists vandalised them to protest against aid being sent to the Gaza Strip [Oren Ziv/AFP]

Many of those who attack the convoys are religious Zionists who envision the future of Israel as one entirely devoid of Palestinians, and therefore support policies of settlement-building and violence against Palestinians, Sally Abed, an activist with Standing Together, said.

Such groups have been emboldened under Israel’s current government, the most far right in its history.

“They are the extreme of the extreme,” Abed said.

“There is gross overlook, or neglect, from the police. It’s a complete collaboration,” she added.

Abed’s claim was borne out by Rachel Touitou, the spokesperson for Tvaz9, one of the main groups behind the attacks, who confirmed to Al Jazeera that the group was acting on information provided by the security forces.

Abed said that while settler groups like Tvaz9 are not the same groups that have been staging violent attacks against Palestinians in the occupied West Bank, they do share an ideological connection.

Pushing back.

Nevertheless, in East Jerusalem on Thursday morning, activists from Standing Together are busy removing many of the traces of yesterday’s far-right provocations.

Stickers proclaiming “Muhammad is Dead” are removed from ancient stone walls, competing for space with graffiti and other stickers claiming “Kahane lives”, referring to a former ultranationalist rabbi convicted on terrorism charges.

Hardliner and ultra-orthodox numbers are growing, Lee Green conceded, but “they remain a minority. A large one, it’s true, but a minority all the same”.

“Despite all the noise, you need to remember that there are only around 500,000 settlers in the West Bank,” he said. “We outnumber them. We just need to organise around a single idea and push back.”

Standing Together’s membership has exploded since the war in Gaza began, marking them as a growing power within the country, Lee Green added.

“This is a battle. It’s a battle for society,” he said, “If we win, we get a new country, one where Israelis and Palestinians both get to exist, free and equal.”

Source: Al Jazeera