The annual flag march kicked off in Jerusalem on Thursday afternoon.
Police worked “hand in hand” with the Israel Defense Forces Home Front Command and Jerusalem City Hall to prepare for the event, Jerusalem District Police officer Ch.-Supt. Yoram Segal said in a statement on Wednesday.
The march, featuring thousands of Israeli youths waving Israeli flags, is part of the annual Jerusalem Day festivities, which celebrate the city’s reunification in the 1967 Six-Day War. Setting out from the city center, the procession passes through Damascus Gate and proceeds through the Old City to the Western Wall. The route does not pass through the adjacent Temple Mount.
More than 2,000 police officers are securing the march’s route through the Old City, and more than 1,000 security personnel are on duty at other celebratory events in the Israeli capital.
Several streets are closed in the city on Thursday, but the restrictions have been designed to accommodate those living along the march’s route, including in the Old City’s Muslim Quarter, as much as possible, said Segal.
“We will attempt, to the best of our ability, to allow everyone who is not participating in the march to go about their daily lives without being affected by this event,” he said.
According to Ch.-Supt. Mirit Ben-Mayor of the Israel Police spokesperson’s unit, preparations for the event included liaising with local businessmen and community leaders.
“We have been working with everyone, including both Muslim and Jewish leaders, as well as commercial businessmen, to prepare them for this day and make sure everyone is aware of the details. Good communication between police and community leaders is a major part of the work that we have been doing to prepare for this day,” she said.
Ben-Mayor also addressed allegations of radicalism that have appeared in both foreign and local media, dismissing them as “disinformation.”
“There has been a lot of incitement and disinformation surrounding this march. This is a festive event, and 99% of the people who will be taking part in it are peaceful people who are here to celebrate and to reach the Western Wall,” she said. The local population, including the Arab population of the Muslim Quarter, were aware that the purpose of the march is celebration and not provocation, she added.
Police warned that any attempt to disturb the peace would be met with a harsh response.
“There is a small minority on both sides that may try to agitate or break the law,” said Ben-Mayor. “This minority who may choose to commit illegal action during the march will be prosecuted to the full extent of Israeli law. We will not allow anyone from any side to disturb the peace or endanger people’s safety. It is crucial to understand that this is not the purpose of this march; this march is a celebration of the reunification of the city.”
Segal echoed the message, saying, “We will not allow violence from any part of the community.”
In fact, said Segal, police have already detained several people for incitement and threats.
In addition to officers being deployed along the march route, technological means are being employed to secure the event, including drones and cameras, said Ben-Mayor.
Segal said that the police view this event no differently than any other major festival in the city, whether Christian, Jewish, Islamic or secular.
“We protect Christian festivals, and we also are very involved in religious events during the holy month of Ramadan. In the same way, we will protect the right of Jewish people to march to the holy site of the Western Wall to celebrate the reunification of Jerusalem.”
Segal further said that Thursday’s events will not influence other religious practices across the city, specifically on the Temple Mount.
“We will maintain freedom of worship in the main religious places open to the public. Jewish visits to the Temple Mount will proceed according to the usual schedule and the Muslim entrances to the Temple Mount will not be touched,” he said.
Police had proposed a general closure in Judea and Samaria on Thursday due to threats from Palestinian terrorist groups, but the move was reportedly opposed by the Israeli defense establishment.