What is Israel's provocative 'Flag March' and why is it so controversial?

What is Israel's provocative 'Flag March' and why is it so controversial?
Israeli nationalists participate in an annual so-called Flag March in occupied East Jerusalem - but what is it, and why is it controversial?
4 min read
26 May, 2022
Each year, thousands of Israeli nationalists participate in the march [Getty]

Each year, thousands of Israeli nationalists participate in a controversial Flag March, waving Israeli flags, singing nationalist songs, and in some cases, chanting anti-Arab slogans, as they pass through Palestinian neighbourhoods.

Israeli authorities on Wednesday gave the go-ahead for flag-waving Jewish nationalists to march through the heart of the mainly Palestinian thoroughfare in Jerusalem's Old City on 29 May, in a decision that threatens to re-ignite violence in the holy city.

What is flag day and why is it important?

Flag Day is meant to celebrate Israel’s capture of Palestinian East Jerusalem in the 1967 war, which Israel has illegally occupied ever since.

The march is being held by Israeli extremists who claim that Al-Aqsa Mosque belongs to them.

This year's planned route is from Jaffa Street and will enter the Old City through the Damascus Gate, heavily used by Palestinians, en route to the Western Wall, which adjoins the Al-Aqsa Mosque, by passing through the Muslim Quarter.

Access to Damascus Gate and the Old City will be blocked for Palestinians, who often face violence from occupying Israeli forces and settlers during the march.

Why is the march controversial?

The march is taking place in occupied East Jerusalem, which is Palestinian land that was illegally captured by Israel. Taking this route is seen as an endorsement of Israel's occupation, considered illegal under international law, and undermining Palestinian rights and presence in Jerusalem.

While Israeli authorities have never officially approved a route that would see the march entering the Al-Aqsa compound, Jewish extremists, often protected by Israeli security forces, have stormed the compound on a regular basis recently. 

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What's happening this year?

This year's march comes along with heightened tensions after the killing of Shireen Abu Akleh, a Palestinian-American journalist for Al Jazeera. She was shot dead near the Jenin refugee camp on 11 May by Israeli forces while covering a raid in the occupied West Bank, sparking outrage across the Arab world.

During her funeral in Jerusalem, more than 70 Palestinians were wounded when attacked by Israeli security forces mourners, including the pallbearers.

The march is also taking place during heightened tensions in the occupied northern West Bank city of Jenin, which has been repeatedly raided by Israeli forces since a wave of anti-Israeli attacks in late March. Nablus has also become another flashpoint area in the occupied territories.

This year, organisers threatened to storm Al-Aqsa compound during their march.

On Sunday, Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh warned against the plans. "I warn the enemy against committing such crimes," Haniyeh continued, adding that "the resistance... in Jerusalem and the West Bank will not allow or accept" such incidents at Al-Aqsa.

"We will confront it with all possibilities and we will never allow the Al-Aqsa Mosque to be violated," he said.

The status quo of Al-Aqsa

This year's march is taking place amid talk that Israel is trying to change the status quo of Al-Aqsa Mosque.

Jordan, whose ruling Hashemite family has custodianship of Jerusalem's Muslim and Christian sites, said that since 2000 Israel has undermined a centuries-old tradition that bars non-Muslims from worshipping in the mosque compound.

In April, Jordan began intensifying efforts to push Israel to respect the historic status quo of the holy site after Israeli attacks on Palestinian worshippers at the mosque compound intensified significantly during Ramadan.

At the time, Jordanian officials told the US that Israel should end restrictions on staffing of Jordan's religious waqf administration and let it manage all visits by non-Muslims and prevent worship by them.


'Palestinians will resist'

Israel is underestimating the Palestinian determination to resist occupation by allowing the annual Flag March to take place in occupied East Jerusalem, Palestine's presidency said.

The resumption of the Flag March, which is organised by far-right Israeli groups, means Jerusalem will become a "beacon" for all Palestinians and Arabs, presidential spokesperson Nabil Abu Rudeineh said on Wednesday evening.

He added that by allowing the march to take place, Israeli authorities are "once again underestimating the Palestinian people and leadership’s determination to remain resilient and challenge the occupation", in a statement carried by Palestinian Authority's news agency Wafa.

Abu Rudeineh urged the Israeli government to "refrain from such provocations that can only further inflame tensions, fuelling more unrest and violence, with dire consequences", saying it is fully responsible for any escalations that may take place at the time of the controversial march.

Following the statement, the Israeli police said the march will take place the way it always does.

"The traditional Jerusalem Flag Parade (29.05.22) will take place this year as it has every year for decades", the police force tweeted on Thursday morning. The march last year was delayed until 15 June due to tensions.