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Joy on Jerusalem Day as tens of thousands march in capital

Energy and youth the order of the day as Israelis fete the 1967 liberation of the city’s east.

Jews dance outside the Damascus Gate to the Old City during Jerusalem Day celebrations, May 18, 2023. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90.
Jews dance outside the Damascus Gate to the Old City during Jerusalem Day celebrations, May 18, 2023. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90.

Celebrations were underway across Israel on Thursday for Jerusalem Day, the national holiday commemorating the city’s reunification in the Six-Day War.

The main feature of the celebrations is the annual flag march in which tens of thousands of people waving Israeli flags walk through the streets of Jerusalem to symbolize the city’s unity.

This year the parade followed the traditional route, departing from downtown and proceeding along King George and Agron streets before reaching the walls of the Old City. After this, the march splits, with females continuing through Jaffa Gate and males going through Damascus Gate before meeting up again at the Western Wall.

The march does not continue to the adjacent Temple Mount complex, the holiest site in Judaism, due to restrictions on Jewish presence there.

A patriot in Jerusalem, May 18, 2023. Photo by Elad Zagman/TPS.

This year’s march had tens of thousands of Israelis of all ages and backgrounds marching with flags and dressed in the traditional blue-and-white attire, singing religious and patriotic songs together.

“This is my third time coming to this march and it just has incredible energy, you can really feel the nation coming together,” Yotam Ariel from Petach Tikvah told JNS. “Every year I bring my whole family because it is important for the kids to feel connected to this city.”

There is an overwhelming number of young people mixed into the crowd at the march, all celebrating the capital of the Jewish state.

Jerusalem Day marchers, May 18, 2023. Photo by Elad Zagman/TPS.

“I just got out of the army for the weekend and I immediately headed down to Jerusalem to be in the march. This city is the heart of our country and we have to show that,” Nadav Richter from Ariel told JNS.

Several terrorist groups issued a number of threats against Israel in the days leading up to Thursday’s celebrations. On Wednesday, an official from the Palestinian Authority said Israel is “playing with fire.” Later that day, Salah al Bardwil, a member of the Hamas political bureau, warned that “the march of the zionist flags will not pass and the response will inevitably come.”

Police deployed 3,500 police officers, with 2,500 working exclusively along the planned route. On Thursday, the police said that the march was unfolding in a peaceful and non-confrontational manner.

“There have been a few young kids here or there that have caused trouble but we quickly approached them and calmed down the situation. Other than that, there is a very enjoyable atmosphere with everyone having a good time. At the end of the day this march is about celebration,” Police international spokesperson Master Sgt. Dean Elsdunne told JNS.

“We want to dispel the idea that this is about instigation or provocation; this is a festive event in which almost everyone is acting respectfully and cooperating with the police,” he said.

A few non-Jewish people came to show their support.

“We are just here on vacation but we heard about the flag march and we just wanted to join. This city is the center of the world and it is good that it is undivided as the eternal capital of the Jewish people,” Monica Bilber, a member of an evangelical Christian community who is visiting from Nashville, Tenn., told JNS.

Many members of the Israeli government also took part in the march, including Cabinet ministers, members of Knesset and local officials.

Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich headed a group of fellow Religious Zionism MKs including Simcha Rothman, Michal Waldiger, Ohad Tal and Zvi Sukkot.

National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir was mobbed by throngs of supporters along the route. “There are tens of thousands of people here, thank God. Jerusalem is ours forever,” he said.

Jerusalem Deputy Mayor Fleur Hassan-Nahoum, who was also taking part, said: “It is wonderful to see young and old celebrating the reunification of our eternal capital.

“Jerusalem is not just our modern capital, it is also the reason we became a united people 3,000 years ago,” she told JNS.

Hassan-Nahoum criticized attempts to mar and politicize the march.

“Certain foreign elements still do not recognize the reunification of our capital and so they try to villainize what is happening here,” she said, adding that “99.9% of people are marching in love and in song and in celebration.

“Unfortunately, there are a few bad apples that the press focus on to characterize the celebration as a radical nationalistic one, but that is not the spirit of the march,” Hassan-Nahoum said.

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