The day of rising tensions was the first test of a new Israeli coalition government just three days into its term. It started when the government permitted a far-right Jewish march to pass through Palestinian areas of Jerusalem on Tuesday night, over the objections of Arab and leftist parties in the coalition, and despite threats from Hamas that it would retaliate….
For right-wing and many centrist members of the alliance, including Mr. Bennett, the flags march is a matter of national pride: a celebration of their democratic right to walk through areas of Jerusalem captured by Israel during the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, which Israel now considers part of its undivided capital. Each year, it features thousands of marchers waving Israeli flags as they proceed toward the Western Wall, a sacred site in Judaism….
But to Arab and left-wing members of the coalition, it was a provocative gesture. It offends Palestinians, who do not celebrate the capture of East Jerusalem, which much of the world still considers occupied, and who hope it will one day form the capital of a Palestinian state. Palestinian families living on the route of the march often board up their homes and shops in anticipation of abuse and violence from the marchers.
This year, Palestinians felt there was a particular double-standard in the decision to allow marchers to proceed past Damascus Gate, a prominent entrance to the Old City, and to dance in an adjacent plaza that is central to Palestinian communal life in East Jerusalem. The police had kept the plaza off limits to Palestinians for much of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan — a decision that helped exacerbate the tensions in the city that formed the backdrop to the Gaza war.
“They open for their people and they close for mine,” said Samer Barusi, a 67-year-old Palestinian living near the route of the march, which he said showed how there was little difference between the new government and the one it replaced.
“It’s like the difference between Pepsi Cola and Coca-Cola,” Mr. Barusi said.
Waving Israeli flags, marchers streamed past Damascus Gate, many of them chanting, “The nation of Israel is alive.” Some younger marchers could be heard shouting threats to Palestinians, including, “Death to Arabs!”
Yair Lapid, the government’s centrist new foreign minister, later said the government had been right to allow the march to take place, but condemned the marchers’ rhetoric. “It is incomprehensible how it is possible to hold the flag of Israel in hand and yell ‘Death to Arabs’ at the same time,” Mr. Lapid wrote. “That is not Judaism or Israelism, and that certainly isn’t what our flag represents.”
Several Palestinians were arrested in Jerusalem on Tuesday as Israeli police cleared the route of a far-right Jewish march through Palestinian neighborhoods which celebrates Israel’s capture of East Jerusalem in 1967.
Before the march, the government sent conciliatory messages to Arab leaders inside Israel and to the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and Egypt, which frequently mediates between Israel and Hamas, making it clear that Israel was not looking for an escalation, officials said. New limits placed on the march included allowing only small, well-guarded groups of mostly teenage girls and women to pass through the Muslim Quarter of the Old City.
The police were also out in force, moving Palestinian residents away from the route of the march for much of the afternoon, except for people who own or work in shops in the area. Several bystanders were detained by officers. One Palestinian man was filmed being beaten by officers as they cleared the area to make way for the marchers….
Mansour Abbas, the leader of Raam, an Arab Islamist party within the coalition, said he had not raised the march issue with Mr. Bennett.
“If we quarrel over everything, there is no doubt that this coalition will fall apart,” Mr. Abbas said in a radio interview on Tuesday. But he nevertheless also condemned the parade and said it should never have been allowed to go ahead.
“The flag march in Jerusalem is a wild provocation, which is mostly composed of screams of hatred and calls for violence and an effort to set the region on fire for political reasons,” he said. “The minister of public security and the police should have canceled it.”
Before the march, its opponents were clear that they feared another escalation in fighting with Hamas.
The main United Nations envoy in the region, Tor Wennesland, warned of rising tensions and asked all sides to “avoid any provocations that could lead to another round of confrontation.”
Hamas had threatened a violent response, while nevertheless hinting that it might not resort to something as drastic as rocket fire.
“What is certain is we can’t be silent in the face of the flags march, which is deeply provocative and part of the occupation’s internal politics,” said Mohammad Hamada, a spokesman for [Hamas].