Countering Racism on Jerusalem Day

21 May 2015

Last Sunday was Jerusalem Day. In recent years this holiday has included a “Flag Parade,” in which extremists march through Palestinian neighborhoods in and around the Old City. Spitting, shoving, vandalism, and racist chants — including “death to Arabs” and “the mosque will burn” — have become part and parcel of the event.

Dovetailing with the parade this year, local Jerusalem residents, with help from NIF and Tag Meir, organized a “Flower parade,” handing out flowers in the Old City as a gesture of peace and solidarity with its Muslim residents.

“We’re Jerusalem residents and we were very worried about the parade,” said Tzurit Yair, one of the organizers of the event. “We knew that it was bad last year and we were afraid it would be even worse this year. We said we have to do something, to show that there are people who think differently. We wanted them to see Jerusalem Day in another way – an opportunity to celebrate all city residents. And we thought what could cheer people up? We bought, with help from the NIF, about 1,500 flowers. Around 400 people participated in the event.”

“There were beautiful and very emotional moments. People were really moved. And there were moments that were much harder. In some places they were too upset and wouldn’t take our flowers. But I think that even those who wouldn’t take a flower were probably happy that someone wanted to give them one. I hope that in the coming years, the March of Flowers will continue to grow.”

The route of the Jerusalem Day “March of Flags” was contested days before by NIF grantees Ir Amim and Tag Meir, but the Supreme Court decided in favor of the nationalist marchers, allowing the parade to go through the Muslim Quarter of the Old City. Nonetheless, the court ordered the police to arrest anyone calling for violence or vandalism immediately. There is “zero room for tolerance for those provoking violence, verbally or physically,” the court said.

In the end, despite the thousands of “March of Flags” participants going through the Muslim Quarter and the worries of the police, the parade proceeded in relative calm, although there were a few isolated incidents of anti-Arab behavior. This calm is, in large part, thanks to efforts by Ir Amim and Tag Meir before the march on social networks, in the Israeli media, and in the court as well as the local Jerusalemites involved in the Flower Parade.