Prime Minister Naftali Bennett on Wednesday declared that a far-right lawmaker would be barred from Jerusalem’s Damascus Gate, as the organizers of a nationalist march planned for later in the day vowed to pass through the flashpoint entryway to the capital’s Old City despite a police ban.
A statement from Bennett’s office said the decision to prevent Religious Zionism MK Itamar Ben Gvir from reaching the Damascus Gate was made at the recommendation of Public Security Minister Omer Barlev, Shin Bet director Ronen Bar and Israel Police Commissioner Yaakov Shabtai.
Under Israeli law, Knesset members enjoy parliamentary immunity, allowing them freedom of movement.
However, the law states that their movements can be restricted if “motivated by considerations of state security or military secrecy.”
“I have no intention of allowing petty politics to endanger lives. I will not allow Ben Gvir’s political provocation to endanger IDF soldiers and Israel Police officers, or to burden their already heavy task,” Bennett said in a statement.
“Our police officers and soldiers will continue to focus on maintaining the security of Israeli citizens… and firmly fighting Palestinian terror,” he added.
The march was called after Palestinians this week attacked buses outside the Old City en route to the Western Wall, smashing windows and wounding passengers, and attacked Jews in prayer shawls on their way to the wall.
At the same time, the Temple Mount has seen repeated clashes between police and Palestinians protesters, leading to dozens of injuries and arrests. The Jerusalem unrest, which was preceded by a string of deadly terror attacks in Israel, has fueled fears of a larger conflagration.
Responding to Bennett’s statement, Ben Gvir signaled he would buck the premier’s order.
“After he abandoned police and citizens, [Bennett] has turned into a dictator who impinges on the freedom of movement of Knesset members,” complained Ben Gvir, noting that MKs have parliamentary immunity.
“If there is no agreed upon framework [for the march] and [no] compromise between the police and organizers, I intend to go to Damascus Gate, without asking Bennett, Barlev, or the Shura Council or Hamas,” said the firebrand lawmaker in a statement.
Bennett’s announcement came after organizers of the march vowed to pass through Damascus Gate in defiance of police.
On Tuesday, police rejected the plan by right-wing activists to stage a march into the Old City, though they reportedly continued negotiations with the organizers late into the night to try to reach a compromise.
A police statement said the request to hold the march was submitted Monday “with short notice” and that one of the organizers was summoned for a talk with officers. The statement noted that organizers announced the march even though it had not been approved.
Police stated their commitment to upholding “freedom of expression and protest by law, while maintaining the wellbeing and security of the march’s participants and the entire public.”
“We aren’t going onto the Temple Mount, we’re walking from Old City to the Western Wall, following a route where the police are supposed to be to protect us regardless,” said Noam Nisan, one of the protest organizers.
“There’s no legal prohibition against walking here, so [trying to block us] is a political decision,” Nisan added. “It’s not meant to be provocative.”
Wednesday’s hastily organized “flag march” was planned amid heightened municipal and international tensions over the Old City, which have both been flashpoints for increased violence at the confluence of Passover, Ramadan, and Easter.
Clashes broke out on the Temple Mount on Wednesday morning, with Palestinians throwing rocks and Molotov cocktails — including from inside Al-Aqsa mosque — at police who were securing the site for Jewish visitors.
“We saw this week the pictures of rocks thrown at buses on their way to the Western Wall and of Jews attacked in the Old City,” said Nisan, referring to two recent incidents in Jerusalem that circulated in the Israeli press. “We wanted to do it in the place where rocks were thrown on buses.”
Ahead of the event, the Gaza-based Hamas terror group warned of “the consequences of sacrificing offerings [on the Temple Mount] or allowing the Zionist flag march to approach the holy sites,” adding that the Israeli leadership will bear full responsibility for what it called “dangerous and provocative behavior.”
Similar unrest surrounding Ramadan last May led Hamas to fire rockets toward Jerusalem, setting the stage for 11 days of combat between Israel and the terror group that also sparked widespread Jewish-Arab violence in mixed cities.
The tensions this year have already sparked a minor flareup in the south, with a rocket fired from Gaza on Monday night and intercepted by the Iron Dome air defense system, in the first launch from the strip in four months. Israel hit Hamas targets in Gaza hours later.
Responding to the conflict between Palestinians and Israeli security forces on the Temple Mount, known as Haram Al-Sharif to Muslims and home to the Al-Aqsa Mosque, Israeli allies Jordan and the United Arab Emirates called their Israeli ambassadors for dressing-downs. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan called his Israeli counterpart on Tuesday to similarly express concern about tensions at Al-Aqsa, which have captured the attention of the Muslim world.