Kicking off what is expected to be a historic and tense week, Israelis celebrated on Sunday the nation’s 51st Jerusalem Day, the annual commemoration of the city’s unification under Israeli rule after the Six-Day War in 1967.
Jerusalem is a focal point of attention this week with Jerusalem Day, the transfer of the United States Embassy from Tel Aviv to Israel’s capital, a solidarity march with Israel, anticipated Palestinian protests and the beginning of Ramadan, the month Muslims worldwide fast — all converging in the next few days.
Heavy police presence and road closures have begun and are expected to continue through Tuesday.
The Jerusalem Day march, also known as the Flag Dance, drew some 45,000 people who walked from downtown Jerusalem to the Old CIty — some marchers passing in front of Palestinian protestors at Damascus Gate in the Muslim Quarter — all the way to the Western Wall.
This particular event and route tend to be contentious and Sunday’s march was no different. Muslims and Jews exchanged arguments, but police prevented any potential violence.
Another march took place in West Jerusalem ending at the First Station in the German Colony. Fleur Hassan-Nahoum, a deputy-mayor of Jerusalem, said the event is an alternative to the flag march which has been “a bit hijacked by more nationalist groups.”
“The message of this march is that we are celebrating Jerusalem Day and we are proud of that, but we want a Jerusalem that is peaceful and tolerant,” Hassan-Nahoum told The Jerusalem Post. “We have captured Jerusalem from Jordan and we’ve liberated it. We sanctify the freedom of religion and freedom of worship, and it is because of us that Christians and Muslims can worship freely. We [Jews] didn’t have that luxury before 1967, and we are [now] the guardians of freedom of worship in this city.”
The Six-Day War, which took place between June 5 and 10, 1967, began after years of tension and random attacks on Israel’s various borders. After skirmishes between Israel and Egypt erupted in the Sinai on June 5, Syria and Jordan attacked Israel in the North. Lebanon and Iraq also joined the fight but Israel quickly repelled any invaders while seizing East Jerusalem, the West Bank and the Golan Heights. Israel observes the date according to the Hebrew calendar.
Official state ceremonies also took place to remember soldiers who died in the war and Ethiopian Jews who died en route to Israel from their native country.
But despite tensions that are expected to rise over the next few days, Israelis awoke — if indeed any slept — to the euphoric news that their representative at the Eurovision song competition in Lisbon beat out dozens of other countries to win at almost 2 a.m. Israel time. Netta Barzilai’s victory led Israeli newscasts all day.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called Barzilai to congratulate her, declaring her “Israel’s greatest ambassador,” and later greeted his cabinet with a play on the winning song’s title, “Toy.”
“Boker toy,” he said rather than boker tov, good morning. On a more serious note, Netanyahu focused on Jerusalem’s good fortune in this auspicious week.
“Jerusalem is being blessed with many gifts these days,” the prime minister said. “We received another one yesterday evening, with Netta’s suspenseful and shining victory. The gift was that Eurovision will be coming to Jerusalem next year, and we are proud to be hosting it.”
The Eurovision is expected to bring thousands of visitors, artists and journalists plus the international spotlight to Israel’s capital city in 2019 over the course of the multi-day competition.