A group of Jewish religious nationalists waved Israeli flags during a visit to the flashpoint Temple Mount site Sunday, as tensions ran high on Jerusalem Day ahead of the controversial Flag March set to take place through the Muslim Quarter of the Old City.
Video from the compound showed a number of Jewish visitors waving Israeli flags.
Palestinians inside the compound chanted slogans at the Jewish visitors, including “With spirit and blood we’ll sacrifice for you, O Aqsa.”
The Hamas terror group has previously signaled that the waving of the Israeli flag at the holy site, which includes the Al-Aqsa Mosque, could trigger a violent response.
“The resistance will take down those flags with their rockets if Al-Aqsa’s defenders [in Jerusalem] do not do so with their feet,” Hamas official Mushir al-Masri said earlier this week.
Palestinian groups hostile to Israel have been disseminating an “unprecedented” quantity of material on social media inciting violence against Israelis in the run-up to Jerusalem Day, Channel 12’s Palestinian affairs report Ohad Hemo said on Sunday afternoon.
An unspecified number of non-Muslim visitors to the compound were removed from the site and detained, according to police.
The statement from police did not specify what rule the visitors violated, but the announcement of the group’s removal came after a number of Jewish religious nationalists waved Israeli flags.
Jerusalem Day, which marks Israel’s conquest of the Old City and East Jerusalem from Jordan in the 1967 Six Day War, is celebrated nowadays mainly by national-religious Jews.
Most prominently, youths march through the Old City for the contentious Flag March. Israeli officials have worked to dispel false rumors that the parade route includes the Temple Mount.
Under an increasingly frayed arrangement known as the status quo, Jews are generally allowed to visit the Temple Mount during limited hours, but not pray there or perform other acts of worship that can be seen as a provocation to Muslims.
Police said that over 1,800 Jewish visitors were granted entry to the site on Sunday morning, in groups of 40-50. Hundreds had arrived early in the morning to wait for a chance to tour the site.
Among those who visited the Temple Mount was far-right MK Itamar Ben Gvir.
“The fact that we are living here [in Israel] riles and annoys them. So — what, we should return to Europe?” the Religious Zionist party MK declared.
He later tweeted that “we will not give in to threats by terror groups — we are the landlords in Jerusalem.”
עַיִן לְצִיּוֹן צוֹפִיָּה. עלינו הבוקר, יום ירושלים, להר הבית. לא ניכנע לאיומים של ארגוני הטרור – אנחנו בעלי הבית בירושלים!
יום ירושלים שמח! ???????? pic.twitter.com/X8XFzLhIsA
— איתמר בן גביר (@itamarbengvir) May 29, 2022
Ben Gvir, seen by many as a provocateur, last visited the holy site in March. His previous visits to sensitive sites, including the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah last spring, have served to ratchet up tensions and fighting.
Also at the Temple Mount was former Likud MK Yehudah Glick, an activist for Jewish rights to visit the site. Glick led a group of dozens of people around the site, livestreaming the event on Facebook.
In a clear violation of the rules governed by the status quo at the site, Glick led the group in saying blessings out loud, as well as traditional incantations and some prayers. The participants kept moving the whole time rather than standing still as is the custom during Jewish prayer.
They also sang a passage from Psalms to the tune of Israel’s national anthem. Among those seen participating in Glick’s group was an apparently off-duty IDF soldier in uniform.
Police who accompanied the group did not intervene, despite the fact that Jewish prayer is not permitted at the site.
Other Jewish visitors to the Mount were filmed lying prostrate on the stones of the site.
Prior to the arrival of the Jewish visitors to the site, dozens of Palestinians barricaded themselves in the Al-Aqsa Mosque and hurled rocks at security forces stationed outside.
Police said “a small group of rioters” that was barricaded inside the mosque threw “large rocks” toward Israeli officers.
Some Palestinians displayed flags of the Hamas terror group. The Gaza-based group had called on Palestinians to arrive en masse at the Temple Mount.
— כאן חדשות (@kann_news) May 29, 2022
Police moved in, and while there were minor clashes with the Palestinians, no injuries were reported.
Police reportedly deployed flashbangs during the scuffles and according to some reports briefly made an entry to the mosque itself.
A video clip released by police showed one masked rioter throwing rocks at security forces, and also later relieving himself on the roof of the Al-Aqsa Mosque.
לא ייאמן! מתפרע משתין על גג מסגד אל אקצא. ככה אכפת להם ממקומם הקדוש pic.twitter.com/se9QPtNALL
— Yossi Eli יוסי אלי (@Yossi_eli) May 29, 2022
Police said in a statement that numerous Palestinians were arrested after clashing with police and Jewish visitors on the Temple Mount.
The Temple Mount, known to Muslims as the Haram al-Sharif, is the holiest site for Jews and site of the third-holiest shrine in Islam.
It is the emotional epicenter of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and tensions there helped ignite the 11-day Gaza war in May last year that was triggered into open conflict when Hamas fired a barrage of rockets at Jerusalem during the Flag March.
As the tense Jerusalem Day morning continued, Hamas spokesperson Fawzi Barhoum issued a warning, although he refrained from issuing any concrete threat or ultimatum, as the terror group did last year in the run-up to the war.
“The resistance cannot stand idly by in the face of the occupation’s abuses,” Barhoum told the Lebanese al-Mayadeen network. “[Israel] seems to have not understood the messages of the resistance well,”
“The resistance has established clear equations that Jerusalem, Al-Aqsa, and Palestinian blood are red lines,” Barhoum said.
Though northern gates to the Temple Mount will be left open throughout the day for Muslim worshipers, non-Muslims will only be permitted to enter the site for a few more hours in the afternoon.
Hundreds of worshipers also attended morning prayers at the Western Wall to mark Jerusalem Day. The Western Wall plaza is adjacent to and lower than the Temple Mount from where rioters have in the past hurled rocks down on those below. The morning prayers passed without major incident.
Israel Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai said during a visit to a police post opposite the Western Wall that the force was at “the height of readiness” for the day’s events in Jerusalem and around the country.
“We are in full control in all sectors and of all incidents and the number of specific incidents this morning were taken care of immediately and professionally,” Shabtai said.
Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Lion said Sunday morning that the city was generally remaining calm, with the Temple Mount disturbances contained.
“We are dealing with disturbances on the Temple Mount. I am currently at the [Old City’s] Jaffa Gate and quiet reigns — the Temple Mount is the point where the disturbances end, and it is a minority of people,” Lion told the Kan public broadcaster.
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett held a situational assessment on Saturday night with top security advisers and a decision was made to let this year’s Flag March go forward as planned, routed into the Old City via Damascus Gate and through the Muslim Quarter to the Western Wall.
Israeli officials have remained determined to allow the march to follow the same route it has taken over decades of previous celebration, even at the risk of a Hamas response. Security assessments have reportedly concluded Hamas, which is said to have put its rocket units on high alert, will not fire unless there are violent clashes on the Temple Mount.
Israel is also said to have sent calming messages to Hamas via Qatari and Egyptian mediators indicting it is not interested in an escalation. Hamas, the de facto ruler of the Gaza Strip, is reportedly also not eager for another round of fighting as it is still trying to rehabilitate the Palestinian enclave following last year’s bruising conflict.
Aaron Boxerman contributed to this report.