Journalists attacked as thousands of Israeli nationalists march through Jerusalem

Thousands of Israelis, including several nationalist groups, gathered in Jerusalem for the annual March of Flags to celebrate the capture of East Jerusalem in the 1967 war.

The crowd, draped in thousands of Israeli flags, gathered outside the Damascus Gate of the Old City and chanted slogans that included anti-Arab rhetoric before marching through the Muslim Quarter to the Western Wall, a route Palestinians see as highly provocative.

The same march three years ago helped spark the 11-day war in Gaza, where the area was considered the highly sensitive emotional heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Shai Rosengarten, deputy director of the Im Tirtzu group, insisted that the tour of the Old City was not a provocation, citing the “natural and historical right” of the Jewish people.

In response, Palestinian shops along the route closed their doors, while a heavy police presence of 3,000 officers remained.

By the end of the day, police reported 18 arrests, including five for attacks on journalists.

Haaretz journalist Nir Hasson was among those attacked, with the newspaper describing scenes of hundreds of young men storming through the Muslim quarter, shouting “Death to the Arabs” and attacking Palestinians.

The march, which is usually fraught with tension, was made especially tense this year by the ongoing conflict in Gaza, which continues to capture the world’s gaze.

During a special Jerusalem Day meeting, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu recalled Israel’s historic struggles and declared that the nation is still “surrounded by enemies” as it was 57 years ago.

“They wanted to strangle us, wipe us off the map. But we are an ancient people, a people of brave fighters. We stood up as one and defended ourselves,” he said.

“We are still doing this today against Hamas in the south, Hezbollah in the north and Iran in the east.”

Meanwhile, the political leader of the terror group Hamas, Ismail Haniyeh, condemned the march as “settler rampage” and vowed that his people “will not rest until the occupation ends”.

Jerusalem, home to key Muslim, Jewish and Christian holy sites, remains at the center of the long-running Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Israel, which occupied East Jerusalem in 1967 and annexed it in 1980, which is not recognized by most countries, claims the entire city as its capital.

In contrast, Palestinian leaders seek East Jerusalem as the capital of a future independent Palestinian state, currently home to approximately 350,000 Palestinians and 230,000 Israelis.

Marching with the flag has sparked violence in the past. In 2021, Hamas fired rockets at the city on the same day, sparking the 11-day war in Gaza.

It comes as the Israeli army continues to pound central Gaza with heavy airstrikes, while international talks to secure a ceasefire and deal to release hostages have continued.

US President Joe Biden continues to push for a three-phase plan to halt the fighting for six weeks while hostages are exchanged for Palestinian prisoners. In this proposed truce, officials plan to send much-needed aid to civilians still at the center of the fighting.

Western powers and Arab countries have backed the proposal, but there are fears that a solution may not be reached between the warring countries.

Israeli officials have flatly rejected Hamas’s insistence on a permanent ceasefire and complete withdrawal from the IDF.

Earlier, Biden told the Qatari emir that “Hamas is now the only obstacle to a full ceasefire” and “reaffirmed Israel’s willingness to move forward” with the conditions he laid out last week.

It came as a senior Hamas official accused Israel of seeking “endless” negotiations and reiterated the group’s position that it rejects any deal that excludes a permanent ceasefire.

Israel’s national security adviser Tzachi Hanegbi said he expects the fighting in the Gaza Strip to last until the end of 2024.

“The fighting in Gaza will continue for at least another seven months,” he said in an interview with Israeli media last week.

Eight months after what became Gaza’s deadliest war on record, Israel is facing growing international opposition and cases before two international courts in the Netherlands. Algeria proposed a UN resolution demanding an immediate ceasefire and the release of all hostages.

Chinese Ambassador Fu Cong hopes for a vote this week, and President Xi Jinping has expressed deep concern over the situation in Gaza.

French UN Ambassador Nicolas de Riviere called for urgent measures to reduce civilian casualties.

“It’s a matter of life and death,” he said.

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