Palestinian terror group Hamas warned on Sunday that it would not let Israel “Judaize” Jerusalem ahead of a controversial nationalist march through the Muslim Quarter of the capital’s Old City set for later this week.
Hamas spokesperson Abd al-Latif al-Qanou said in a statement that Jerusalem “will remain the Palestinian capital” and that the Gaza-based group “will not allow the Zionist occupation to implement plans to Judaize the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the city of Jerusalem through division…or flag parades.”
“The flag parade in Jerusalem will not change the reality, we will maintain the ‘equation’ as imposed by the resistance,” he said, in reference to Palestinian groups that have in the past responded to events in Jerusalem and on the flashpoint Temple Mount site with rockets from Gaza.
The heavily guarded Jerusalem Day Flag March has become an increasingly combustible issue for Israel, drawing tens of thousands of national religious youth to mark the anniversary of Israel’s capture of East Jerusalem during the 1967 Six Day War.
The annual, provocative event drives fears of aggravated tensions with Palestinians. Two years ago, the march played a role in touching off a brief war with Gaza-based terrorists, and last year, it saw sporadic clashes and hundreds of participants filmed chanting “Death to Arabs” and other racist and Islamophobic slogans.
The Palestinian people, said al-Qanou, “will continue to protect the identity of Al-Aqsa Mosque” and “thwart any attempt to expand Zionist control over Jerusalem.”
Earlier Sunday, the terror spokesperson claimed that “Zionist groups” were holding “Torah lessons” at the flashpoint site, the holiest site for Jews and the third-holiest shrine in Islam.
Last month, during the second week of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, fierce clashes at the Temple Mount broke out when police entered the mosque, where hundreds of Palestinians had barricaded themselves inside with explosive devices, rocks, and fireworks, in order to target Israeli officers and civilians, according to police.
Police managed to overpower the rioters, but several people inside captured footage of officers brutally beating and apprehending Palestinians, which went viral on social media and sparked a massive uproar across the globe.
Hamas terrorists also responded by firing several barrages of rockets at Israel from both Lebanon and Gaza, leading to Israeli retaliatory airstrikes.
Subsequent prayers at the site were largely peaceful and Israel barred Jewish visitors from the site for the last 10 days of Ramadan.
Amid high tensions in the aftermath, this year’s flag rally is scheduled to take place on Thursday, May 18.
On Friday, a senior Israeli official confirmed to The Times of Israel that the march would be held along its original route, despite concerns about a possible escalation.
A Channel 12 report on Friday cited the current government’s lack of political maneuverability on the issue: moving the route — when former prime minister Naftali Bennett left it in place last year — would harm its image as an authentic right-wing alternative to the previous government.
In the past two years, the Biden administration has urged Israel to change the route of the march to go through the Old City’s Jaffa Gate, instead of Damascus Gate, skirting the Muslim Quarter, which is largely populated by Palestinians.
But right-wing and religious nationalist groups insist that the original route be maintained as has been the case for decades, in what is meant to signify Israel’s “reunification” of Jerusalem.
In 2021, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu agreed to reroute the Flag March away from the Muslim Quarter, though he waited until hours before the rally to make the decision, allowing threats against Israel from Hamas and other terror groups to pile up in the meantime. Despite the decision, Hamas fired a barrage of rockets at Jerusalem, as the rerouted march was taking place. Shortly thereafter, the IDF launched Operation Guardian of the Walls in Gaza, which lasted 11 days.
The next year, Bennett came under similar pressure from the US, but ultimately decided to allow the march to go forward on the original route, in what led to the globally criticized scenes of participants singing “May your village burn,” as they danced outside of the Damascus Gate. However, terror groups in Gaza largely avoided responding in the way they had a year earlier.
While Channel 12 did not cite a source for any of its reporting, it said the security establishment did not receive any intelligence alerts against the holding of the Flag March along its original route.
The senior official speaking to The Times of Israel clarified that additional security consultations would be held on the matter before a final decision would be made. A senior US official told The Times of Israel last week that the issue was already on the Biden administration’s radar.
The Standing Together grassroots group that advocates coexistence between Jews and Arabs penned a letter to Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai last week urging him to reroute the rally.
“The parade is a provocation whose purpose is to poke a finger in the eyes of Palestinian residents of Jerusalem,” it wrote, expressing its concern that the march could ignite further violence between Israelis and Palestinians.
Similar calls were issued by left-wing groups Peace Now, Emek Shaveh, and Ir Amim.
Shabtai answers to National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir, a far-right firebrand who has loudly advocated for allowing the nationalist march through the Muslim Quarter.