The big news from Jerusalem Day 2013 was the story that never happened

Throughout Israel and the Diaspora, family and friends use the occasion of Jerusalem Day—the day Israel captured Jerusalem from Jordan in the 1967 Six-Day War—to have barbeques, share war stories, and reflect on the liberation of the Western Wall and the reunification of the Jewish capital.

In the Holy City itself, the contrast could not be more distinct.  Jerusalem Day in Jerusalem has traditionally been characterized by a gathering in the thousands of mainly yeshiva students and members of the national-religious Right for the annual “Flag Dance” rally.  After an innocuous dancing and flag waving celebration in Zion Square, this rally turns into a controversial (some would say provocative) procession to the Damascus Gate, where participants then line up on one side of the main Sultan Suleiman Street—the road separating the Old City from central East Jerusalem—and shout slogans at Palestinians lined up in protest on the other side of the street, before making their way through the Muslim Quarter to the West Wall plaza.

Likewise, for Jerusalem Day 2013 ultra-nationalists in Zion Square and Palestinian demonstrators along Suleiman Street geared up for the yearly ceremonial confrontation.  Yet to the surprise of many—and to the disappointment, perhaps, of some far-left journalists—that confrontation never came to pass.

The credit for the absence of the verbal skirmish undoubtedly goes to the Israel Police.  Some groups who had congregated an hour before the march clashed in and around Damascus Gate.  Thanks to effective strategizing by the police however, officers soon cordoned off Palestinian protesters well behind the street, and when the bulk of the Flag Dance participants finally arrived, rather than being left to linger around Damascus Gate, they were directed straight though into the Old City.

Indeed, the police had blocked off Suleiman Street to Israelis, as well.  Volunteer ushers in fluorescent yellow jackets were ordered to link arms and form a human barrier in front of the road, while members of the Israel Border Police (the police’s gendarmes) sealed off any remaining gaps and side paths.

This year, with no one allowed near the street, no ultra-nationalist renditions of “Mohammad is dead” nor any Palestinians chanting Khaybar al-Yahud (an implicit threat with an Islamic underdone to kill the Jews)—as happened last year—were witnessed.

All along the way from Nablus Road to Salah ad-Din Street, Palestinian crowds were barricaded from access to Suleiman Street.  This fact most likely prevented an escalation, after a tussle between a settler family strutting out of Herod’s Gate and some Palestinian residents quickly led to a clash with the police.

The Flag Dance march through the Muslim Quarter was also somewhat more subdued this year.  The way to the Western Wall was, as always, cleared of any local inhabitants, but this time the participants were moved along, and kept from frequent stopping to make their presence better known.

At the Western Wall, celebrants gathered and listened to musicians and even a speech from Minister of Industry, Trade and Labor (and former leader of the settler YESHA Council) Naftali Bennett.  Some waved flags of Hebron, and a handful wore stickers reading “Today Everyone Knows KAHANE WAS RIGHT!”

Sultan Suleiman Street (background) was emptied while Jerusalem Day 2013 celebrants (foreground) were directed to the Damascus Gate

Sultan Suleiman Street (background) was emptied while Jerusalem Day 2013 celebrants (foreground) were directed to the Damascus Gate

Thanks to the police, people like these never were able to have their shouting match with the scores of Palestinians eager to reciprocate.  “United Jerusalem” may have been the theme of the day, but division, at least for now, seems to be maintaining the peace.