Radical Israeli settlers and rightwing groups took part in the provocative “Flag March” on Thursday, May 18. Organized annually since 1968 to celebrate the occupation of East Jerusalem — under the name of “Jerusalem Unification Day” — the march usually starts in West Jerusalem with tens of thousands of Israelis carrying the flags of their colonial state. They march through the gates of the Old City, where Palestinians live, and reach the Buraq Wall near the al-Aqsa Mosque compound while chanting anti-Arab and anti-Muslim slogans.
The march has become an annual provocation for Palestinians and an attempt to assert the Israeli-Jewish presence in the holy city and by necessity, to erase the city’s Palestinian identity. However, additional provocative factors in this year’s march increased its potential to ignite an already tense situation.
This year, the march took place under the auspices of the most rightwing government in Israeli history, which supported the march through extensive participation by government officials, hence lending it an official governmental imprimatur. Ministers from Netanyahu’s government seen in attendance included the Minister of National Security, Itamar Ben-Gvir; Minister of Finance, Bezalel Smotrich; Minister of Transportation, Miri Regev; and Minister for the Development of the Negev and the Galilee and National Resilience, Yitzhak Wasserlauf.
The march also comes on the back of the widespread Israeli euphoria in the wake of its recent vicious attack on Gaza. During the attack that ended a few days ago, Israel killed 33 Palestinians, the vast majority of them civilians — referred to as “collateral damage” by the Israeli army in its targeting of 6 resistance leaders. Six of the martyrs were children.
Deterring a response to the Flag March
It is not far-fetched to assume that Israel launched the attack on Gaza before the Flag March to deter Palestinian factions from retaliating against it.
The colonial government’s arrogance was evident before the march when Prime Minister Netanyahu said: “We delivered a clear message after the last operation in Gaza. Anyone who attempts to harm us will pay in blood. The Flag March will proceed as planned.”
This was, in part, a reference to the Flag March of May 2021, which was the spark that ignited a widespread confrontation between Palestinians in all of historic Palestine and the Israeli occupation. It resulted in Israel launching a war on Gaza that killed 256 Palestinians, including 66 children and 40 women. The events of May 2021, including the Unity Uprising that engulfed Palestine from the river to the sea, showed that Palestinians would not stand idly by in the face of Israeli provocations.
The fact that Palestinians continue to cling to their land and continue to resist their erasure has forced Israel to remain in a constant state of war.
This year’s Flag March also coincided with the 75th anniversary of the Nakba, when the Zionist movement perpetrated massacres and mass ethnic cleansing against the Palestinian people to make way for the foundation of the Israeli state. The fact that Israel chose to launch a deadly attack on this anniversary was a stark reminder for Palestinians that the Nakba is not something of the past, but is part of the ongoing Nakba — a continuous state of colonial aggression seeking to uproot Palestinians from their land to make way for the settler colonial entity.
In light of this ongoing reality, it becomes clear why Israel refuses to stop its provocative policies. Carrying out one aggression after the other, if we look at the last month alone, we will notice a multitude of provocations, from the attack on Gaza, to the death of Khader Adnan while on hunger strike, to the continuous raids against West Bank towns and refugee camps. Since the start of 2023 alone, Israel has killed over 140 Palestinians.
Israel wants to end the existence of the Palestinian people, considering it a key to its stability
The reason for this unabated onslaught is simple. Israel wants to end the existence of the Palestinian people, considering it a key to its stability. The fact that Palestinians continue to cling to their land and continue to resist their erasure has forced Israel to remain in a constant state of war. All policies of Israeli aggression stem from this impetus, to suppress the will of Palestinians and end their existence. The Flag March is only the recent attack in a long unending series of settler colonial encroachment.
However, it also poses a crisis for the Zionist project. Jerusalem fell to occupation 56 years ago, yet Israel is still trying to assert its presence in the city it calls its capital. In this sense, the Flag March is not only a sign of colonial arrogance but of insecurity. This marked lack of confidence pushes Israel to organize these demonstrations to entrench the foreign notion of Israeli belonging in Jerusalem.
Stable countries do not feel the need to assert their national flag in such a vulgar manner, but it has been rendered necessary in the face of the deeply-rooted Palestinian presence in Jerusalem and their steadfastness against the process of Israelization and Judaization. If we look beyond the momentary provocation, the Flag March is indeed an expression of Israeli weakness.
A state established on abnormal foundations of ethnic cleansing and foreign occupation cannot enjoy a normal life. Palestinians are undoubtedly paying the heaviest price for this insecurity, but they are ultimately faced with a single option: to confront the attempts to uproot them and resist settler colonialism until liberation.