JERUSALEM, June 1 (Xinhua) — The Israeli police maintained beefed up presence across Jerusalem throughout Wednesday, as throngs of people took to the streets to participate in flag marches and ceremonies marking the 44th Jerusalem Day.
Some 3,000 officers were deployed to secure the events, police spokesman Mickey Rosenfeld said.
An estimated 30,000 people took part in the flag march, an event largely made up of the religious Zionist sector.
The marchers traversed Sheikh Jarrah, a mostly Palestinian neighborhood in East Jerusalem, which has been a focal point of numerous protests staged in recent years by pro-Palestinian groups against the neighborhood’s Jewish enclave, and housing plans for Israelis.
The parade’s organizers said that the decision to pass through Sheikh Jarrah did not aim to provoke its Palestinian residents. Rather, it was made after the traditional route, along Jaffa Street was shut down due to test runs of the light- railway train.
Near 2,000 police were on hand to prevent possible clashes, as the parade proceeded to the Western Wall.
The status of Jerusalem has traditionally stood at the core of the conflicts between Israel and the Palestinians, who claim the city’s eastern section as the capital of their future state. The international community largely views the Jewish neighborhoods there as illegal settlements.
However, Israel deems the holy city as the country’s “eternal and indivisible capital.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, speaking during a state ceremony Wednesday afternoon, reiterated his stance on a ” united” Jerusalem. “We will not go back to the days when the city was split and bleeding,” he vowed.
While not explicitly mentioning Israeli-Palestinian contentions over eastern Jerusalem, Netanyahu hailed ongoing construction projects slated to modernize the city in the coming decades, including a fast train to Tel Aviv, scientific and cultural centers, and a new national library.
Netanyahu’s speech expounded similar statements he made in recent days on his government’s policy regarding Jerusalem.
Speaking at a religious seminary school Tuesday night, the prime minister underscored the Jewish people’s historical ties to Jerusalem, saying that he plans to authorize more construction projects in the city.
Shai Schiller, an observant Jew, said that the march was neither a show of force intended to provoke Arab residents in East Jerusalem nor connected to the controversy surrounding West Bank settlements.
“We’re here to celebrate our national holiday and that of our capital city, Jerusalem,” Schiller said.
Some Israeli activists from pro-Palestinian groups also hold protest on the flag march in Sheikh Jarrah on Wednesday.
Hillel Ben-Sasson, a member of the Sheikh Jarrah Solidarity movement, said that Netanyahu’s recent speech at the U.S. Congress, in which he said that Jerusalem must remain “united,” testifies to the panic felt by Israel’s right-wing camp.
“They came here Wednesday to claim the so-called Jewish sovereignty over this neighborhood. It seems that they are trying to cling to East Jerusalem, which is predominantly Palestinian,” he said.
Tensions ran high when the protesters, mainly activists from different Israeli NGOs, the Sheik Jarra Solidarity movement and a few Arab residents, were confronted by some right wing activists and settlers who had attended Jerusalem Day rally.
The heavy presence of security forces avoided any serious altercations, though small clashes erupted between the left and right wing activists, with one men wounded and two taken by the police