A traditional Palm Sunday parade in Jerusalem, held every year since Turkish rule, was marred yesterday when Israeli soldiers stopped the march and attacked young scouts who they said refused to leave the street.
The trouble began when Israeli police watching the parade ordered leaders to take down a Palestinian flag, which they said may not be flown in Jerusalem.
The flag was put away. But moments later, when the scouts tried to move into the road to enter the Christian Quarter of the Old City, police ordered them on to the sidewalk. Chaos ensued as scouts bumped into tourists. Young scouts were pushed out into the road, while marchers at the rear of the parade, oblivious to the confusion, pressed forward. About 60 Israeli soldiers in riot gear arrived. When the scouts at the head of the parade were pushed against them, the soldiers began to strike out with wooden batons.
Four marchers were taken to hospital, including George Bides, 15, whose leg was broken and four boys were arrested. Local priests worked their way to the middle of the fray, trying to disperse the crowd, many still holding their palm branches.
"We got permission from the police to have this parade, on the same route we have used for hundreds of years," said an Arab Catholic scout leader, Nabil Toubassi. "The next thing I knew the soldiers were beating the children."
Palestinians in the crowd said they believed the Israelis stopped the parade in retaliation for the Hamas suicide bombings. About 4,000 scouts normally participate, but this year only 500 came to Jerusalem because of the Israeli closure of the occupied territories.
The Latin patriarch, Michel Sabbah, head of the Palestinian Catholic Church, condemned the Israeli interference, noting it came days after Israel announced it will confiscate hundreds of acres of Palestinian land in Bethlehem to construct a military road to join two settlements. "They profaned our holy week, and now they have profaned Palm Sunday," he said. "Are there no Christian rights here?"