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Israeli march breaks into violence on Jerusalem Day

June 2, 2011 3:30 P.M. (Updated: June 3, 2011 5:16 P.M.)
JERUSALEM (Ma’an) -- In the first Israeli "Jerusalem Day" rally to go through the heart of Palestinian East Jerusalem, marchers chanted "death to the Arabs" and lobbed vegetables at Palestinians.

Wednesday’s march saw 40, 000 Israelis, mainly young men, wearing white and blue in the colors of the Israeli flag, and flooding toward flashpoint neighborhood Sheikh Jarrah, where they continued to the Jewish-revered Western Wall inside Jerusalem’s Old City.

The annual event, which celebrates the capture of Palestinian Jerusalem in 1967, usually passes through West Jerusalem, and its re-routing saw 3,000 Israeli police deployed to avert violence, the force’s spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said.

Rosenfeld said an hour into the march that five people had been arrested, including two leftist protesters and one marcher who entered an East Jerusalem mosque waving an Israeli flag.

"An Arab woman was arrested for chanting anti-Semitic slogans and an Arab man was arrested for spitting at a marcher," he added.

Israeli press later reported 24 arrests of Palestinians and Israelis during the day.

Meanwhile Israeli peace group Gush Shalom called the event a “fake holiday, the day of extreme nationalists and racists, settlers and provocateurs.”

The statement was part of an outcry against the provocative march, in which dozens of Israelis were filmed chanting and singing slogans including “Muhammad is dead,” “May your village burn,” “Death to leftists,” and “Butcher the Arabs,” Israeli news site Ynet reported.

Several hundred activists gathered in Sheikh Jarrah traded insults with a protest group of around 30 left-wingers holding banners reading: "Jewish-Arab solidarity against Fascism" and "Illegal settlements in east Jerusalem are an obstacle to peace."

"The whole sight of it is a provocation. I can't get to my house, everything is closed off," local resident Reema Abu Sherif told AFP.

As the demonstrators arrived, Palestinians in the Old City and elsewhere in East Jerusalem shut their shops to avoid confrontation, leaving the area almost empty of locals.

At Damascus Gate, the main entrance to the Old City from East Jerusalem, flag-waving Israelis threw vegetables, sticks and stones at Palestinians, some of whom flung stones back.

The march, which usually follows western Jaffa Street, was shifted east as a new light rail system has been installed on the previous route.

"Jerusalem will never again be divided," Netanyahu Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin told revelers on Tuesday night.

At a special session of the Israeli parliament to mark the occasion, Netanyahu vowed to continuing building in Jerusalem, and said that Israel’s conquest of Jerusalem had benefited Israelis and Arabs.

"We are building and we will build still more," he said. "A real city is being build [sp] here."

Netanyahu used a play on words of a 2,000-year-old Jewish prayer yearning for a return to Jerusalem, saying "next year in a more built up Jerusalem," according to Israeli daily Haaretz.

But at the same session Knesset speaker and Likud-member Reuven Rivlin said Israel had “failed to deliver” a united Jerusalem, highlighting disparities between the city’s east and west sectors, Haaretz reported.

Israeli peace association Gush Shalom called Wednesday for Jerusalem Day’s “removal from the Israeli calendar.”

“What is called ‘The Unification of Jerusalem’ was in fact but the creation of a regime of occupation and oppression over the Palestinians of East Jerusalem,” the group said in a statement.

The occasion of a peace agreement between independent Palestine and Israel would be “true Jerusalem Day” that could be celebrated by all who love Jerusalem, including Israelis and Palestinians, the statement said.

The status of Jerusalem is a sticking point for a peace deal. Palestinians regard East Jerusalem as the capital of their promised state, but Israel, which annexed it in a move not recognized by the international community, lays claim to the entire city as its "eternal, indivisible capital."

AFP contributed to this report
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