JERUSALEM (AFP): Thousands of flag-waving Israelis on Sunday marched through Jerusalem s Old City during a nationalist procession that regularly stokes Palestinian anger, a year after Jerusalem tensions exploded into war.
About 70,000 Jewish Israelis paraded through the streets, police said, for an annual “flag march” marking Israel s 1967 capture of east Jerusalem. Some marchers chanted “death to Arabs”, as a number of Palestinians hurled projectiles from the rooftops.
Israel s Foreign Minister Yair Lapid described far-right Jewish groups who taunted Arabs — specifically the Lehava and La Familia extremist organisations — as a “disgrace”, saying they “aren t worthy of holding the Israeli flag”.
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett ordered police to show “zero tolerance” towards Jewish extremists who planned to “incite” tensions, singling out La Familia.
More than 3,000 police officers were deployed across Jerusalem, reporting more than 60 arrests over “disorderly conduct”.
The Palestinian Red Crescent said 79 Palestinians were injured in and around the Old City.
Around annexed east Jerusalem, many Palestinians flew flags, with police clashing with the protesters carrying them.
Above one of the Old City gates, a Palestinian flag was flown from a drone, which police shot down, an AFP photographer said.
During the march, thousands of Jewish Israelis — overwhelmingly men, and many of them youths — poured through Damascus Gate, the main Old City thoroughfare used by Palestinians and of huge symbolic importance.
“This is our country, and that s it,” 18-year-old Jewish Israeli Ofer Amar told AFP at Damascus Gate. “The Palestinians are guests in our country.”
Dozens of Israelis hoisted flags on the gate, while others sang and danced on the surrounding steps, where isolated clashes were reported ahead of the march.
Jonathan Bnidik, another marcher, said the purpose of the rally was “to tell the whole world that (Jerusalem) is our ancient and historical national capital”.
Most of the international community does not recognise Israeli control over east Jerusalem, which Palestinians see as the capital of a future state.
– West Bank protests –
There were also counter rallies held in the occupied West Bank, with Israeli security forces clashing at several sites with Palestinians, who set tyres alight.
The Red Crescent reported more than 100 Palestinians were wounded across the West Bank.
Earlier, Jewish nationalists chanting pro-Israel slogans had visited Jerusalem s Al-Aqsa compound, located on Old City land that Jews revere as the Temple Mount.
Police reported that Palestinians had thrown rocks towards them from inside the mosque.
Police said that some 2,600 people had ascended to the compound during Sunday s regular visitation windows — a figure that is higher than normal and includes tourists.
Some Jews had “violated visitation rules” and several people were detained, police said without providing further details, before the day s visits concluded.
Far-right nationalist lawmaker Itamar Ben Gvir, who was among those who went to Al-Aqsa, later said his visit aimed “to reaffirm that we, the State of Israel, are sovereign” in the Holy City.
Ben Gvir was thronged by extremist supporters as he entered Damascus Gate and walked to the Western Wall, the holy Jewish prayer site below Al-Aqsa where the Jerusalem Day rally culminated.
Celebrations continued there throughout the evening, with sporadic clashes between Palestinians and Jews taking place across east Jerusalem.
– Fear of war –
The march comes a year after tensions and unrest in Jerusalem led the Islamist armed group Hamas to fire rockets at Israel from the blockaded Gaza Strip, triggering an 11-day war.
Hamas warned last week that marchers must not pass through the Al-Aqsa mosque compound, saying it would use all means to confront them.
Public Security Minister Omer Bar-Lev said late Sunday that letting the march go ahead was a message of force to Israel s enemies.
“If we succumb to terror threats to not wave the Israeli flag in our capital, we won t have a day of quiet, and will find ourselves attacked in the future too,” he said.
Israel has since late March been hit by a series of attacks targeting mostly civilians, and has in turn launched military raids targeting armed groups in the occupied West Bank.
Despite the recent violence, tensions have been more muted in the run-up to Sunday s rally compared to last year.
Security analyst Shlomo Mofaz judged that Bennett was betting on the likelihood that for now “Hamas does not have any interest in another war” as it seeks to rebuild Gaza following last year s conflict.