Authorities limiting attendance at Jerusalem Day flag march, number of Jews in Old City

Only 16,000 celebrants to be allowed to participate in the annual Flag March, divided between the Damascus and Jaffa Gate entrances to the Old City.

By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

Citing safety concerns, the organizers of the Jerusalem Day celebration announced Tuesday that there would be strict crowd limitations for this Sunday’s mass event.

While Internal Security Minister Omer Bar-Lev granted permission last week for participants to use the traditional route and pass through eastern Jerusalem’s Damascus Gate on the annual Flag March, the number will now be limited to 8,000 marchers. An equal number will be allowed through Jaffa Gate to get to the Western Wall, where the march traditionally ends with hours of singing and dancing.

The rest of the tens of thousands of expected celebrants will be confined to the plaza in front of Jaffa Gate where “a massive dance event will take place,” said the organizers.

“Out of responsibility for the safety of the participants and their security, the changes were decided in coordination with a request from the Israel Police, to ensure their safe return,” they said.

The safety issue was also connected to general mass events that have been restricted following Israel’s worst civilian disaster last year, when 45 people died after slipping on a walkway during the traditional Lag B’Omer celebration in Meron attended by well over 100,000 people.

Last year, Hamas shot several rockets at Jerusalem during the celebration of the capital’s reunification in the Six Day War, sparking the IDF’s 11-day counter-terror Operation Guardian of the Walls. This year, Hamas has threatened more aerial attacks, saying that Jews marching through eastern Jerusalem constitutes an unacceptable “crime.”

“The Palestinian people, led by the resistance — especially those in the West Bank [Judea and Samaria] and Jerusalem — will not permit this Jewish, Talmudic garbage to go unanswered,” Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh said Sunday.

Arab MKs have also condemned the permit. Regional Cooperation Minister Esawi Frej (Meretz) tweeted that the decision allowing “the March of Provocation in the Moslem Quarter and Damascus Gate is a dangerous and alarming mistake” since its purpose is to “burn” the city.

Opposition Joint List chairman MK Ayman Odeh called it a “racist parade” that is “only an excuse for the far right to set fire to the area, riot in the streets and call ‘Death to Arabs’ under police auspices.”

As a result of the heated discourse and physical threat, the Border Police are preparing to recruit three reserve companies to reinforce police forces in the capital to secure the event.

Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai said Monday that it was correct to allow the march’s route because it was an issue of “freedom of worship, protest, and expression, for everyone.” The police will “maintain” this right, he said, since “this is the role of the police in a country that values freedom and democracy.”

On Tuesday, Communications Minister Yoaz Hendel said, “With all due respect to the coalition, our national interest prevails. If I have to choose between the flag parade and the integrity of the coalition – I will choose the flag parade…. The perception that the Israeli flag is supposed to bother someone is wrong.”