Imagine tens of thousands of flag-waving white supremacists gaining government permission to march through predominantly Black areas of Harlem, Detroit, Los Angeles, or Atlanta. As they march in their matching shirts, they shout racist slogans, beat anyone who gets in their way, and attack journalists who are covering the march.

The police stand by and watch, until a much smaller group of counter-protesters dares to approach with Black Lives Matter flags – and then the officers disperse the Black group with rubber bullets, stun grenades, and police batons. While the white nationalists march unimpeded, dozens of Black counter-protesters are arrested.

Would we stand for that?

Or imagine thousands of unbridled neo-Nazis marching through predominantly Jewish sections of Brooklyn, where they break the windows of local businesses, taunt the Orthodox, and shout “death to the Jews” while the police stand by and watch.

Would that be acceptable to us?

No. It would not.

Should we speak up if one of our strongest international allies supports similar travesties?

Every year, Israelis celebrate “Jerusalem Day” as a national holiday commemorating Israel’s capture of East Jerusalem from Jordan during the Six Day War in 1967. Israel has since claimed to “annex” the historically Palestinian section of Jerusalem, though the action is not widely recognized internationally.

Most Israelis just enjoy the day off, but many who share a pronounced nationalistic spirit use the day to promote an annual Flag March that seems largely designed to demonstrate Jewish supremacy over the Arab population.

Celebrants typically begin by gathering in their thousands and marching through the Damascus Gate (typically used by Arabs), then parading through the Arab Quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City on their way to a massive rally in the plaza before the Western Wall. They intentionally provoke Palestinian residents as they wave Israeli flags, sing nationalist songs, and wreak havoc along the way. (See video here).

This year’s demonstration came on Sunday, May 29. Tens of thousands of Israeli youths – nearly all young men incited by older leaders and mostly from illegal settlements scattered through the West Bank – came with a vengeance.

Clad mainly in white shirts or other colors indicating allegiance to certain leaders, they damaged local shops, threw rocks, and smugly confronted any Palestinians who dared to speak up for themselves.

Along the way, they attacked journalists with impunity and sought to take away their cameras or phones. One Palestinian reporter was beaten with sticks and had his glasses broken. A young woman journalist was openly assaulted as a smiling youth stole her phone in full view of police.

While some of the marchers were more arrogant than violent, others taunted residents unmercifully, singing nationalist songs and shouting slogans like “Mohammed is dead,” and “may your villages burn.” Police action in the Old City was limited mainly to trying to clear out non-resident Palestinians in advance of the march.

Photographers captured one Israeli youth kicking at an older Palestinian woman on her knees who had dared to shout “Allahu Akbar” (“God is great”). Another youth sprayed her with pepper spray, and she required medical treatment.

In Sheik Jarrah, a Palestinian neighborhood in East Jerusalem near the Damascus Gate, Israeli youths threw rocks at pedestrians and cars, breaking windshields and causing injuries.

When a group of residents unfurled Palestinian flags and responded with rocks of their own, the police went after them, confiscating their flags and arresting protestors.

More than 2,600 demonstrators, in groups of 40 at a time, went up on Temple Mount, where the Al Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock have stood for 1,300 years, and where a long-standing agreement preserves it as a place of worship for Muslims. Jews and tourists can visit at certain times, but they are to be respectful and not pray outwardly.

On Jerusalem Day, the young settlers waved their flags, sang exuberantly, and openly prayed in violation of the custom. The police did nothing to deter them. The visitors included extremist Knesset member Itamar Ben-Gvir, prompting a rebuke from Israel’s chief rabbi, Yitzhak Yosef.

Yosef has decreed that Jews should avoid Temple Mount for purposes of ritual purity, fearing that they might accidentally walk over the spot where the Holy of Holies once existed.

When the day of ugly provocation had come to an end, more than 60 people had been arrested: all of them Palestinians except for two young Jewish men who had beaten journalist Iyad Harab, who works for the Arabic service of public broadcaster KAN.

The attack took place just over 10 yards from a group of police, who did not intervene, Harab said. The arrests may not have happened if Harab had not filed an official complaint and been able to identify his attackers.

The Palestinian Red Crescent service said at least 62 Palestinians were injured, with 23 requiring hospitalizations. The police said five officers were injured.

Israeli government officials later suggested that the day was a success because there were no casualties and it did not spark a war with Gaza, as last year’s march had done.

Question: Did you know about this? Have you heard any American politicians speaking out against such pointed provocations, or any American Jewish leaders?

There was precious little coverage (here are single articles on ABC News, PBS, and CNN). Most of my information comes from the progressive Israeli newspaper Haaretz, to which I subscribe (and unfortunately, a subscription is required to read the links I could provide).

A merchant making and selling dolma in the Arab quarter of Jerusalem.

On a more peaceful day in the Arab quarter, a Palestinian woman sells dried dates along with grape leaves for making dolma. (Photo: Tony W. Cartledge)

A group who had traveled with me to Israel and the West Bank left for home two days before Jerusalem Day. On our final day, many of us walked the same route through the Damascus Gate to the Western Wall, but we did so as a peaceful way of appreciating the Arab culture that surrounded us.

I used to think we would not allow that kind of extremist behavior in America, at least before the Jan. 6 insurrection. Thankfully, most of us are united in decrying that type of fanaticism and those who incite it.

The way Israeli’s ultranationalists are allowed to act with increasing impunity, not just in huge demonstrations but in continuing to expand illegal settlements, is an ugly scar on the face of the state they so love. It does not bode well for any future peace efforts in the region, or for Israel’s reputation in the civilized world.

I love Israel and the many Israelis I know – as well as my Palestinian friends. I want to support Israel, but I cannot in good conscience turn a blind eye to the way ultra-Zionist activists are allowed to run amok, create havoc, and totally disrespect the Palestinian people whose land they continue to steal.

The way so many Americans ignore the issue or refuse to speak against it only contributes to the problem.

Our silence says too much.

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