They teach their children to hate

Imagine the scene – Zion Gate, the entry to the Jewish quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem. The area is flooded with Palestinian teenagers, most waving the Palestinian flag, others the flags of known anti-Jewish hate groups. While they wave the flags, they chant ‘Al Quds is ours’, ‘death to Jews’ and ‘an Arab has a soul, a Jew is the son of a whore.’ Later, they are joined by a cabinet member of the Palestinian Authority, who is known to have a portrait in his living room of a terrorist who massacred 29 Jewish worshipers and wounded 125 others. All the while, they are protected by armed police, who have taken care to clear the area of Jews and put barricades up to prevent them re-entering the square that is at the centre of Jewish life in this part of the city.

Now imagine the scene again, but with a few details changed. The place in question is Damascus Gate, the entry to the Muslim Quarter of the Old City; the flags aren’t Palestinian, but Israeli; their chants include ‘Jerusalem is ours’, ‘death to Arabs’ and ‘Jews have a soul, an Arab is the son of a whore’. The politician, of course, is none other than Itamar Ben-Gvir, Israel’s Minister of National Security. This is the scene that I witnessed first-hand on May 18th, this year’s date for the annual Jerusalem ‘Flag Day’ march. 

Itamar Ben Gvir at the Flag Rally this year (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The Flag Day march celebrates what many Israelis consider to be the “reunification of Jerusalem”, while Palestinians view it as celebrating the beginning of the military occupation and annexation of East Jerusalem following the 1967 Arab–Israeli War. Though the exact route of the march regularly changes, it typically winds its way through the Damascus Gate and the heavily populated Muslim Quarter. In order to let the marchers through, Israeli police will forcibly and violently clear Palestinians from the area earlier in the day. While participating in the eighth delegation of the Centre for Jewish Nonviolence, I was given the opportunity to witness the march first-hand alongside Khalil, one of our Palestinian partners who lives in the Old City.

Khalil goes to Damascus Gate every year on the morning of the march, before police clear Palestinians out so that the marchers can enter without incident – usually this is done with force, as well as ‘non-lethal’ munitions such as tear gas, stun grenades and skunk water. Before we head there, he tells us about the first time he went, as a child accompanying his father. This was during the first intifada, when Palestinian flags were banned (Itamar Ben-Gvir also recently ordered police to ban Palestinian flags from public places), so his father had dressed him in the flag’s colours – white, red, black and green. Nevertheless, this was deemed sufficient for Israeli police to arrest him. When his father came to pick him up, he joked that “they took my flag.” When I ask Khalil what his own children do, he says that he makes sure they stay home, as he is scared for their safety.

CJNV delegates with Khalil the day prior in Damascus Gate, guard post in the background

When we arrived at Damascus Gate with Khalil, it was clear that we wouldn’t be able to stay long. Individual marchers had already begun congregating in the area and the area had been cordoned off with metal barriers. The only Palestinians that were allowed to remain were journalists, themselves cordoned off. Reports later emerged of both marchers and police attacking journalists, wounding several of them in the process. Instead, we ventured further into the city, watching Palestinian business-owners shut their shops while military police watched on.

After Khalil showed us around his neighbourhood of Bab Hutta – including a surprise visit to his neighbour’s petting zoo – we headed back in the direction of our hotel. Having walked only a few metres, we stumbled into an argument that had just broken out between a large group of Israeli teenagers who had thrown stones through the window of a nearby house, and a local Palestinian man shouting at them in response. The men stepped closer, threatening the man, who quickly darted inside. The tranquillity of the zoo had been quickly punctured by the reality of the day.

Soon after, we opted to venture back towards Damascus Gate, hoping to witness the march in full swing. This meant doing so without Khalil who, by virtue of being Palestinian, couldn’t easily navigate through the series of checkpoints set up along the road which we were able to breeze straight through, nor blend in with the marchers. What struck me as we looked down at the marchers congregating at Damascus Gate was that the majority of them were teenagers, most of whom looked like they’d come straight from yeshiva. While I watched them dance and chant, a refrain I’d often heard used about Palestinians rang through my head: “They teach their children to hate.” 

A teenage boy with a Kach party symbol tattooed on his neck holds a flag aloft. The Kach Party was it was barred from participating in Israeli elections in 1988 under the revised Knesset Elections Law banning parties that incited racism.

While the flag march may be a one day event, it is not a deviation from normal life. Its participants, many of whom are settlers residing in East Jerusalem or the West Bank, work towards the wholesale dispossession and displacement of Palestinians on a daily basis across the land. The forced entry into Palestinian space by Jewish settlers with the express protection of Israeli police, border, and military forces is also not unique to this day – 2,000 settlers live in the midst of Palestinian neighbourhoods such as Sheikh Jarrah and Silwan, under the protection of the army; 

Meanwhile, the event itself is part of wider state policy regarding the ‘judaization’ of Jerusalem – transforming the physical and demographic landscape of Jerusalem to enhance its Jewish character at the expense of its Muslim and Christian ones. Successive Israeli governments have used an array of measures to both change the demographic makeup of occupied East Jerusalem and entrench control over it; measures including the construction of Jewish settlements, land grabs, and the imposition of a repressive residency system on Palestinians designed to restrict their daily lives and force them to leave the city (including but not limited to the revocation of their permanent residency status).

It is comforting for us to think of the flag march as an isolated display of violence and hatred by a bunch of young, angry men on the fringes of Israeli society. Yet the reality is that this violence and hatred is state-sanctioned. The flag march is not an aberration, but a statement of intent from settlers and the state – and a reflection of a society sliding into fascism.

About the Author
Naomi holds an MPhil in International Relations & Politics from the University of Cambridge, and is a Director of Na'amod: British Jews against Occupation. She is based in Glasgow.