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Skirmishes at a nationalist parade through Jerusalem's Old City

AYESHA RASCOE, HOST:

History, religion and nationalism are colliding today in one of the most treasured cities in the world.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Chanting in non-English language).

RASCOE: Tens of thousands of religious nationalist Israelis are holding their annual march through Palestinian parts of Jerusalem. They're marking the anniversary of the 1967 war when Israel captured East Jerusalem. Palestinians are calling this a powder keg. The U.S. has appealed for calm. Last year, this march helped spark the Gaza war. NPR's Daniel Estrin is in Jerusalem. Hi, Daniel.

DANIEL ESTRIN, BYLINE: Hi, Ayesha.

RASCOE: What have you seen so far today?

ESTRIN: I've seen some nasty confrontations between groups of Israeli religious activists - mostly teens, people in their early 20s. They have been confronting Palestinian residents and shopkeepers in the narrow alleyways of the walled Old City of Jerusalem, where I am right now. And let me play you a short clip of what I saw just down the street from where I am.

(CROSSTALK)

ESTRIN: A group of a dozen young Israelis - they approached a Palestinian cafe bookshop. They were chanting an anti-Arab chant, and Palestinians started shouting. One guy grabbed a plastic trash bin. And Israeli police rushed past the Israeli activists - didn't touch them - pushed back the Palestinians, and the Israeli group cheered in victory. And that's the dynamic that we've been seeing here all day. Israeli police have been hitting and beating Palestinians in the streets, firing stun grenades. One Islamic bookstore owner had a bandage on his eyebrow. We met him, and he said a group of Israelis beat him. The police did not intervene. And he said the police just told him, well, you'll feel better soon.

RASCOE: There's been activity in Al-Aqsa Mosque. What has the scene been like there?

ESTRIN: Yeah. It's been much less violent at the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound today than it has been in recent weeks, but it has not been less tense. This is a major holy site in Islam. It's also revered by Jews as the site of the ancient biblical temples. And we've been seeing more and more Israeli activist groups touring the site. And today, activists said that more than 2,600 Jews visited the site. They call it an all-time daily record. Many even recited Jewish prayers. They got on the ground, bowed, all of this against Israeli government policy at this very sensitive spot.

And Palestinians see this as an encroachment on their beloved holy site. And usually, this kind of confrontation leads to violent police attacks on Palestinians who throw rocks, fireworks. This time, police took some measures ahead of time. They banned younger Palestinians from the site. Police did not fire at Palestinians at that site today. But still, this is the epicenter of conflict.

RASCOE: What do Israelis say about their march through the Old City, in just the few seconds we have left?

ESTRIN: Well, Israelis say this is Jerusalem Day. They're celebrating the capture of East Jerusalem and the West Bank 55 years ago. I spoke to one Israeli activist who said he was there not only because he had emotional attachment towards this holy spot, but also to send a message to Palestinians that we Israelis are in charge. And if you don't like it, you can leave.

RASCOE: NPR's Daniel Estrin in Jerusalem, thanks for being with us.

ESTRIN: Thank you, Ayesha.

(SOUNDBITE OF DESSA SONG, "INTO THE SPIN") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.