Today, Israel mark’s “Jerusalem unification” day.
However, According to Gershon Baskin, co-chairman and founder of the Israeli-Palestinian Center for Research and Information (IPCRI) — who ran in the last Knesset elections as a candidate from a green party which did not gain the minimum number of votes for a seat — Jerusalem is one of the most segregated cities on earth.
Some 50,000 Israelis of one or the other nationalist tendencies are expected today to make their annual triumphalist entry under heavy police and Border Police guard into the Old City of East Jerusalem via the Damascus Gate, which is used mainly by Palestinians.
Jerusalem Unification Day marks the moment, according to the Jewish calendar, when the Israeli Army first entered the Old City of East Jerusalem during the June 1967 war. Previously, from the time the British Army evacuated in May 1948, East Jerusalem and the West Bank had been under Jordanian administration.
Three Israeli human rights organizations are joining Palestinian members of various East Jerusalem neighborhood committees and residents in what they have announced will be “a Jerusalem Day protest demonstration, which is to take place at the same time as the traditional Jerusalem Procession on Thursday, May 21st, 12:00-15:00, near the entrance to Damascus Gate in the Old City. The demonstration will take place on the same day of the Jerusalem Day Procession, which marks 42 years to the ‘unification of the city’, in order to send out a clear message: The city is not united. East Jerusalem had been annexed by Israel against the will of its residents, who have since been suffering discrimination, neglect and abuse in all walks of life. We will protest and demand they be allowed to live in dignity and peace in their hometown“.
According to the announcement, “The demonstration is organized by East Jerusalem neighborhood committees and residents, The Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI), Shomrei Mishpat – Rabbis for Human Rights, and The Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions”, known as ICHAD.
A lawyer for ACRI told journalists this week that the proper and required permits have been granted by the Israeli police, but she said she was not sure how many Palestinian East Jerusalemites would participate in the end — not only because of the potential for violent flare-ups, but also because they fear reprisal in the weeks and months ahead, at home, in their neighborhoods of what is (or, because of route of The Wall, which has cut them off from the city and exiled them to a no-man’s land in the occupied Palestinian territory of the West Bank) what was East Jerusalem.
But they did come – about 400 Palestinians, participating for the first time in one of these Jerusalem Day protest demonstrations, and about 100 to 150 Israeli Jews.
Tali Nir, a lawyer for ACRI who participated in the demonstration, said that the Border Police were upset when they say a lot of Palestinian flags flying, “and they asked us not to do it, so we took some down”, to cool the situation, she said. But they did not remove all the Palestinian flags, because the Israeli Supreme Court has recently ruled that Palestinian flags could be waved during demonstrations.
Rabbi Arik Aschermann of Rabbis for Human Rights was very satisfied by the Palestinian participation. “For 14 years we’ve been saying it’s a pity they don’t come”, he said, “but now they are here. Yes, it’s good”. He attributed the previous non-participation to internal fighting between different Palestinian agendas as much as to fears of violence and/or Israeli reprisals.
One of the signs held up by a young Palestinian participant read: “Number of residents per trash cans: (Palestinian) East Jerusalem = 760, (Israeli) West Jerusalem = 291“.
A group of young Israeli men gathered in front of the demonstrators and did their own rousing chant, before heading through the Damascus Gate into the Old City, where they immediately quited down. They were headed across the Old City to the other side, where the Western Wall stands. A few Border Police soldiers in olive green uniforms and carrying large black weapons followed them, but did not provide a close escort.
The Mufti of Jerusalem, Sheikh Mohammed Hussein, and the Greek Orthodox Patriarch made separate appearances, and spoke in Arabic to Palestinian journalists.
Hatem Abdel Qader, a Jerusalemite who was until recently the advisor of Palestinian Authority (PA) Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, who this week has become (he has been sworn in as) the newly-appointed PA Minister of Jerusalem Affairs in the new Palestinian government, was also at the demonstration. He said that he was working on a new strategy, despite the Israeli prohibition against PA activity in the city: “We want to make something to support our people, to end house demolitions, to face the high Jerusalem taxes. We are developing a plan to try to make the life of our citizens better …. We hope to open other institutions in East Jerusalem by working with some NGOs who have permission, in the fields of women, children, culture, education and law. We are facing a very big problem of building without permits, and we need lawyers and engineers to help make a [zoning or development] plan so that we can try to solve this problem”.
Photos of joint Palestinian-Israeli demonstration at Damascus Gate for Jerusalem Unification Day
courtesy of ACRI
This “Jerusalem Unification Day” was the first time that these groups made a collective public appearance, working together.