Palestinian protestors demonstrated outside Damascus Gate on Wednesday May 8 as groups of boisterous Israeli youth marched to the old city of Jerusalem. These protests came in response to “Jerusalem Day,” a celebration of the reunification of Jerusalem with Israel after the 1967 war. To Palestinians, Jerusalem Day signifies the beginning of a protracted occupation and settlement campaign in East Jerusalem that continues unabated today.
By early afternoon groups of both Palestinians and Israelis had gathered outside Damascus Gate exchanging words and chanting slogans at one another. When asked about what the Israelis were saying a young Palestinian man said simply: “I understand it all, but I hear none of it.” Police intervened periodically throughout the afternoon, often stepping in to create a buffer between the two groups.
What began as a heated exchange between both groups quickly turned violent as Israeli soldiers and police began pushing the Palestinian protesters back away from the gate in an attempt to secure the perimeter for the Jewish march into the old city.
During this initial push local Palestinians and media personnel alike were violently assaulted by Israeli police and military forces as they attempted to move away from the gate. Many were clubbed and carried away in handcuffs, while others were beaten as they tried to flee up the steps and out into the street. A woman was strangled and kicked as she was dragged up the stairs. Another man was thrown down and hit in the stomach with the butt of a gun, and was later treated by emergency paramedics. Many that fell were met with a barrage of kicks from the police,displaying the intensity of the violence by the Israeli police present throughout the day.
The Israeli forces continued to drive the protesters back across the street towards the East Jerusalem bus station employing horses and riot gear to move people away from the old city while erecting metal barriers to deny reentry. By five pm the police had created a perimeter surrounding the old city, pushing all Palestinians out of sight of the marchers. Demonstrations continued near the bus station as protestors chanted “Free Palestine” and “We are not afraid of Israel.”
Local Palestinians and media personnel alike were violently assaulted by Israeli police and military forces as they attempted to move away from Damascus Gate
Once things had settled down a young man named Ahmed spoke about what had happened today. “Jerusalem Day this year was much like last year and will likely be the same for years to come. But we have to respond to these actions, even if it means getting beaten by police and harassed by settlers. It is all we can do.”
The New Jerusalem
This celebration of “unity” by Israelis is a direct affront to the Palestinians in East Jerusalem who had to watch throngs of Israeli Jews move through their neighborhood in a symbolic assertion to their sole claim of the old city.
The celebration of this controversial holiday is especially troubling in the wake of expanding settlements and Palestinian evictions in East Jerusalem that have taken place since 1967 and continue into this year.
It is clear that this holiday is not purely symbolic but reflects the unchanging Israeli policy towards East Jerusalem. A declaration made by the Israeli government in 2002 stated: “There is no west and east Jerusalem but only a united Jewish Holy City.” And in the days preceding Jerusalem day Israel’s mayor of the holy city Nir Barkat asserted that“Palestinians will never have sovereignty in the Holy City,” and that “it was in Jerusalem's DNA to be under 'sole Jewish rule’" and pressure from the international community to stop building on occupied territory was "illegal."
The separation of East Jerusalem from the rest of the West Bank and its continued settlement all point to a systematic attempt to make good on this rhetoric. The violence perpetrated against Palestinians in their own city today is deemed necessary in realizing a Jewish Jerusalem.
Toward the end of the day a young Israeli man named Jacob spoke about what this holiday meant to him. He simply said, “This day represents our eternal claim to Jerusalem, to make Jerusalem a purely Jewish city as it should be.”