March of the flags, "Jerusalem Day", East Jerusalem, 20.05.2012 (Photo: Activestills)
The Jerusalem day march is more appropriately also called “the march of flags”, and that's exactly what I witnessed last Sunday when thousands of Israeli flags swept the streets of the old city of Jerusalem. Flags represent national identity, independence and sovereignty. For those who are still fighting for their freedom and rights flags represent the hope that these will be achieved, and they represent victory for those who have achieved it. The thousands of Israeli flags that stormed East Jerusalem were a clear message: we are the sovereigns here, we own this land, we can place our flags here - The whole of Jerusalem is ours!
Thousands of flags closed down the entire old city of Jerusalem, the main Palestinian market in Jerusalem, and several more neighborhoods in East Jerusalem that the march did not even go through. All the roads in East Jerusalem surrounding the old city from north, east and south were closed down -- not to allow the flag bearers to march, but to prevent Palestinians from walking in their streets.
A couple hundreds of Palestinians and a hand full of Israeli activists tried to stage a counter demonstration. We were determined to say "No, this is not Israel, it's Palestine, the people who live here are Palestinians. The streets, the shops, the cars, and the people that were all closed down and invisible for the marchers - they are all here, you must see them!" We were fenced in across the street from the Damascus gate, "allowed" by the police to protest as long as we stayed inside our cage. No one could see us, while small settler groups ahead of the march are dancing on the streets, blocking them and waiving their blue and white flags with no interference. An old lady outside our cage, but safe on the side walk was pushed back by police again and again until they formed a line isolating her from the rest of us, then grabbed her and pushed her into a police car - the first arrest of many that day.
The settlers were still dancing with their flags, while the Palestinian protest desperately tried to raise their flags high enough to be seen through the line of police that seemed to be the buffer between the two protests: the blue and white protest and the red, green, black and white one. The only problem is, the uniforms of that "neutral buffer" carried a small white and blue flag - just to remind us to make no mistake and remember who's side the police is. The second arrest was minutes later when the border police stormed into our caged protest, running after a crowd running away from them. They caught one Palestinian youth who's main crime was that he ran from them, but just not fast enough. It was the second arrest of the day, and more importantly the running crowd was dispersed and the police blocked the way back.
An Israeli border policeman chases a young Palestinian boy. (Photo: Activestills)
Not only the activists, but all Palestinians on the street were shoved farther and farther back the closer the settler march came, not to be seen, not to be heard. Farther up the road, a Palestinian kid, in a bright pink shirt, was waiving his flag on the wrong side of the police line, when a settler snatched it from him. It is amazing how unbearable the wrong color flag is in a march known as the march of flags. The kid, probably around 10 years old, tried to grab his flag back. Suddenly the child and a border police man chasing him are running towards me at such a speed no one understood what happened. The border police man reached for the boy, tried to grab him, the boy fell to the ground. The policeman tried to grab him again and kick him on the floor at the same time, with such fire in his eyes, such hate for a 10-year-old boy in a pink shirt that had the courage to fight for his flag among all these other flags.
I happened to be in the right place at the right time to block the policeman as he tried to attack the boy, and the boy managed somehow to get up and run away, but the joy of that moment didn't last. A red crescent volunteer was grabbed instead of the boy, and one of the policeman accused him of standing in the way of the policeman chasing the boy, as if that's a crime. And the flag? I can only guess it was thrown into the closest trash can, if not kept by that settler as a memory of his victory: he took the boy’s streets, his city, and now his flag.
Mounted police violently disperse the vigil
near the Damascus Gate. (Photo: Activestills)
A short while later, police galloped their horses into the remaining crowed, and I found myself holding on to another Palestinian flag, held on the one side by an activist from Sheikh Jarrah, and on the other side by a group of policeman trying to pull the Palestinian flag from his hands. I could hear the activist saying, "I'm leaving, I'm going back, just give me the flag!"
They won, the activist was beaten, the flag broken and all of us pushed farther and farther back up the road until we could see no white and blue flags, and more importantly, none of them could see us. The Israeli flags stormed the empty old city, chanting "death to the Arabs", "Mohammed is dead", "may the temple be build and the mosque burned", and all the while they were waving their flags.
In the main closing event of the march, at the Wailing Wall, I heard a man speaking on stage, he was saying: "This is not only a day to show our sovereignty and rights on the whole of Jerusalem, but also on Hebron, and Nablus, and Jerico, and Jenin..." It became clear, this day was not about Jews marching to the wailing wall, nor was it about the "reunification" of Jerusalem. This day was about waiving the Israeli flag in the faces of the Palestinian residents of this land and telling them, we will chase you down every street in the entire land until you never dare to raise your flag again.