Thousands of Israelis marched in a controversial flag-waving procession through east Jerusalem on Tuesday, risking a new round of tensions with Palestinians and posing the first test for Israel’s new government.
The right-wing Jewish march was originally planned for last month as part of “Jerusalem Day” festivities, but was canceled minutes after starting when Hamas fired rockets toward Jerusalem on May 10, and the start of an 11-day cross-border conflict between Israel and Gaza’s ruling Hamas militant group.
Crowds waving blue and white Israeli flags set off from Damascus Gate, the main entry to the Muslim Quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City, dancing and chanting “This is our home” and “Jerusalem is ours.”
Israeli police in riot gear blocked surrounding streets, forcibly removing Palestinian protesters from the route. Thirty-three Palestinian protesters were injured, including by stun grenade, rubber bullets and live fire, with six evacuated to hospital, following clashes with Israeli security forces, the Palestinian Red Crescent Society said.
The flag march is an annual parade where mostly nationalist Jewish groups celebrate Israel gaining control of the Western Wall during the 1967 Six-Day War and captured East Jerusalem, placing the entire city under Israeli control. In previous years, the march has been a flashpoint with Palestinian residents of the Old City.
It comes just days after Israel’s new coalition government was approved in a confidence vote in Israeli Parliament, also known as the Knesset, squeaking through by just one vote. Naftali Bennett was sworn in as prime minister on Sunday, replacing Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s longest-serving leader.
The march underlines the stark divisions within the unlikely alliance of right-wing, left-wing, and Arab parties, which have little else in common aside from a shared goal of keeping Netanyahu out of power.
Bennet’s name was plastered on some posters at Tuesday’s march, along with the word: “the liar.”
Israel’s new foreign minister, Yair Lapid, who will take over from Bennett as prime minister in two years per the coalition agreement, denounced use of the chants of “death to Arabs” during the flag march. “The fact that there are extremist elements for whom the Israeli flag represents hatred and racism is abominable and unforgivable,” the leader of the centrist Yesh Atid party said on Twitter.
“It is inconceivable how one can hold the Israeli flag in one hand and shout ‘Death to the Arabs’ at the same time. This is neither Judaism nor Israeliness, and that is certainly not what our flag symbolizes. These people are a disgrace to the people of Israel,” he wrote in a tweet.
At one point, the crowd hoisted far-right Knesset member Itamar Ben-Gvir, a former activist with the now-outlawed movement that advocated for Israel to expel Arabs, onto their shoulders.
Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh condemned the march as a “provocation,” and Palestinian officials called for a “Day of Rage” in protest of the “Israeli occupation.” Protests were taking place across Gaza on Tuesday night.
“We warn of the dangerous repercussions that may result from the occupying Power’s intention to allow extremist Israeli settlers to carry out the Flag March in occupied Jerusalem tomorrow, a provocation and aggression against our people/Jerusalem and its sanctities that must end,” Shtayyeh said in a post to Twitter on Monday.