June 23, 2024
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Israel’s March of the Flags Controversy, Explained

Last week, in response to Israel’s March of the Flags, Hamas and Islamic Jihad militants launched incendiary balloons, which then prompted the IDF to respond with airstrikes. The March of the Flags holds heavy political weight as it commemorates Israel’s victory in the still-contentious Six-Day War, which occurred 54 years ago this June. The parade was seen by many to be needlessly provocative and the direct cause for the recent uptick in violence. Like everything regarding Israel, the parade, its route through specific neighborhoods in Jerusalem and political upheaval during the governmental transition, all have an obligatory controversy attached.

Oftentimes considered a hotbed of political and religious controversy, the parade, which this year took place on Tuesday, June 15, was seen by many to be a comfort and a moment of unity in the face of Israel’s recent challenges. However, the differing reports, polarized opinions and emotional baggage that came with the drama of the last month engendered uncertainty surrounding the facts about the parade. In the Israeli public’s view, the parade was seen as a moment of defiance that was simultaneously cathartic, while the Arab perspective held the parade in lower estimation as a gratuitous violation of their dignity.

The first controversy regards the parade date. Originally scheduled for May 10, the Hebrew anniversary of the Six-Day War, the “Jerusalem Day” parade was interrupted by the Hamas rocket fire that led to the Israel-Hamas conflict, dubbed by Israel as “Operation Guardian of the Walls,” lasting 11 days.

The parade was then rescheduled for June 10 as “The March of the Flags,” as that was the English date on which Israel finally repelled its attackers and reunited East Jerusalem, and most importantly, the Temple Mount. This year, while in the throes of yet another election, even the updated date of the parade was seen as controversial by some because of the ostensible political weight it held. There were concerns that Benjamin Netanyahu, the sitting prime minister at the time, would use the security issues and potential violence that the parade could foment as a last-ditch effort to stifle the oppositional coalition’s plan to form a government. Assuaging these fears, the parade was rescheduled until two days after the Knesset voted to approve the new coalition headed by Naftali Bennett, on June 15.

Intragovernmental issues, however, were the least of the Israeli intelligence community’s concerns. In fact, police initially denied the authorization needed to allow the parade to continue. Citing the contentious route of the parade through the Muslim Quarter of the Old City and particularly through the Damascus Gate, Defense Minister Benny Gantz and Israeli law enforcement were wary to give the okay as tensions had been mounting for some time. In an effort to eschew violence and unrest, police insisted that the parade be rerouted. Heeding the warnings, the parade was rerouted to begin at HaNevi’im Street and was set to approach the Damascus Gate. The parade participants, however, did not use the Damascus Gate to enter the Old City, but instead passed through the less disputed Jaffa Gate entrance. From there they marched towards the Kotel.

Despite the seemingly innocuous nature of a flag parade, many rational concerns in the Arab community were voiced regarding the route. Chief among these was the prospect of Arab businesses and proprietors being affected by the corresponding security measures necessary to ensure safety among the Jewish celebrants in a majority Palestinian neighborhood. Store owners along the route have usually been forced to shut down for the day in order to give Israeli law enforcement fewer issues when securing the area.

Notwithstanding these legitimate and understandable concerns regarding the logistics of the parade, Hamas has once again exaggerated the situation and purposefully transformed it into bellows to stoke the embers of the recently extinguished fire. While simultaneously claiming victory that the parade was rerouted, Hamas issued a stern admonishment declaring: “If the enemy decides to restore the previous situation, we call for burning the ground under the enemy’s feet.” According to Hamas and its sympathizers around the world, this reaction is evidently congruous with the heinous crime of celebrating one’s remarkable victory in the face of impossible odds.

In a response to the aggressive nature of these statements made by Hamas, MK Itamar Ben-Gvir of the Otzma Yehudit party declared that Israel will not kowtow and acquiesce to the threats of terrorists. Standing similarly steadfast in the face of terroristic ultimatums, Religious Zionist MK Bezalel Smotrich called out his fellow Knesset members who considered cancelling the parade as a “shameful surrender to terrorism and Hamas threats.” Not surprisingly, however, the Joint List, which is composed of the four main Arab political parties in Israel, took considerable umbrage to the parade. Responding to the initial cancellation of the parade, the Joint List issued a statement saying, “Racist hate demonstrations and calls for murder are not protected under freedom of expression and protest. Especially when it comes to occupied territory.” They added, “We will continue to stand firm against the Right’s attempts to ignite Jerusalem and the entire region and lead to bloodshed.” Much to their chagrin the parade was reinstated, but, in an effort to allay fears of violence and economic impact, it followed a much less controversial route.

As expected, reports of violence emerged from Gaza ahead of the parade. According to the Israeli Fire and Rescue services, there were at least 25 fires started in southern Israel, 20 of which were a direct result of incendiary balloons originating from Gaza. This came after Al Arabiya, a Saudi News channel, reported that both Hamas and Islamic Jihad had informed a Egyptian-based mediator that they did not intend to escalate the situation. Additionally, The Joint Operations Room, a Hamas-controlled media outlet, said that, “The crimes of the occupation will not go unanswered and we are ready with actions.” This came after five Palestinians were reported injured after confrontations with Israeli police.

During the parade, police faced slight resistance along the route, mostly in the form of counter protests. One parade participant noted that he saw a number of pastors holding signs that read “Peace in Jerusalem.” The pastors were then pushed back into their homes, ostensibly as a safety protocol measure. While securing the area, police encountered violence mainly in the form of stone throwing, some of which hit police horses, resulting in the arrest of some 17 Palestinians. Another parade participant noted that he heard a call for “Death to Arabs,” and that person was immediately hushed by others.

In retaliatory strikes conducted after the conclusion of the parade, the Israeli Air Force targeted Hamas and Islamic Jihad strongholds in Khan Yunis and Gaza City. Additionally, Israel warned Hamas, through the Egypt-based mediator, that the strikes would escalate if the incendiary balloons did not cease. Via a Lebanese news channel, Hamas insisted that they will continue the “pressure” on Israel until the Karm Abu Salem/Beit Hanoun crossings and fishing zones are fully reopened. Antithetical to this sentiment, Hamas concluded their barrage of incendiary balloon launches due to warnings from Egyptian intermediaries. As is concomitant with a Hamas ceasefire, Israel followed suit and did not respond with additional air strikes.

Armed only with flags and patriotism, Israeli celebrants marched in their capital in a showcase of Jewish perseverance in the face of opposition and impossible odds. Despite facing harsh criticism from the usual suspects and even some new faces, Israel’s March of the Flags occurred without incident.


Caleb Lippe is an intern at The Jewish Link and is a rising sophomore at the Rutgers Business School.

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