Ben Gvir urges ascent to Temple Mount: 'Jerusalem is ours'

Far-right violence, chants of ‘Death to Arabs,’ at Jerusalem Day Flag March in Old City

Extremist Jewish youths also chant ‘May your village burn’ on route through Muslim Quarter, while some assault journalists and Palestinian locals; 18 arrested

Police restrain a far-right activist from attacking a Times of Israel reporter in the Arab Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem during clashes ahead of the annual Jerusalem Day Flag Parade, June 5, 2024. (Sam Sokol/Times of Israel)
Police restrain a far-right activist from attacking a Times of Israel reporter in the Arab Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem during clashes ahead of the annual Jerusalem Day Flag Parade, June 5, 2024. (Sam Sokol/Times of Israel)

Police arrested 18 suspects for violent offenses on Wednesday as clashes broke out during the Jerusalem Day Flag March, in which tens of thousands of mostly national religious Israelis marched through the Muslim Quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City to celebrate the capital’s reunification in 1967.

Extremists assaulted several journalists as well as Palestinian residents during the nationalist event.

Despite tensions over the ongoing war in Gaza, the annual event followed its usual route, with large crowds of Jewish Israelis waving blue-and-white flags marching through Damascus Gate via the Muslim Quarter to the Western Wall.

Many of the revelers’ chants as well as speeches given by right-wing politicians before and after the march centered on the war, with several calling for “total victory” and the resettlement of the Gaza Strip.

According to police, more than 3,000 officers — including Border Police, volunteers and backup from other cities — were deployed in and around the Old City on Wednesday afternoon for the march.

Participants initially gathered in front of Jerusalem’s Great Synagogue, waving flags, dancing and singing religious and nationalist songs.

Addressing the crowd before setting off for the Old City, ultranationalist National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir declared that this year’s Jerusalem Day celebration sends a message to Hamas that “Jerusalem is ours.”

“Damascus Gate is ours. The Temple Mount is ours, and, God willing, complete victory is ours,” he said, flanked by Otzma Yehudit MKs and Social Equality Minister May Golan of Likud.

National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir addresses participants in the annual Jerusalem Day Flag March outside Jerusalem’s Great Synagogue, June 5, 2024. (Sam Sokol/Times of Israel)

After the march’s conclusion at the Western Wall, Ben Gvir and Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich called to expand the war in Gaza and invade southern Lebanon to end Hezbollah attacks, to the acclaim of the massive crowd.

“For victory we need to go into the north and fight Hezbollah and destroy them,” Ben Gvir called. “We want victory!”

Directly addressing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during his speech, Smotrich called on the premier to go to war with Hezbollah.

“Let our heroic warriors win, restore our national honor, national pride and security and allow the heroic residents to return home safely” to rebuild, he said. “The people of Israel are behind you!”

Participants in the annual Jerusalem Day Flag March walk through the Damascus Gate into the Arab Quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City, June 5, 2024. (Sam Sokol/Times of Israel)

Racist chants

As marchers passed through Damascus Gate, they began to chant “May your village burn,” a common anti-Arab refrain, and “Shuafat is up in flames” — alluding to a Palestinian neighborhood in East Jerusalem.

Young men plastered stickers on doors supporting the ideology of the late ultranationalist Rabbi Meir Kahane, founder of the racist Kach party, which is considered a Jewish terror group and is outlawed in Israel. The Times of Israel witnessed several instances of vandalism.

One sticker read: “Repentance + war + expulsion + settlement = victory,” alluding to the dream of many right-wing Israelis to resettle the Gaza Strip.

Abraham Shish, from Ashdod, spoke to The Times of Israel outside Damascus Gate, filled to the brim with religious nationalist youth who were often marching with members of their yeshivas, seminaries and youth movements.

“We are coming here to joyfully celebrate the reunification of the city that was illegally occupied by Jordan between 1948 and 1967 — we are proud that we came back home,” he said.

“Palestinians want to wipe Israel off the map. We know what happened on October 7, they killed our people. Don’t tell me there are civilians in Gaza,” he continued, adding that “everyone in Gaza is connected to Hamas, directly or indirectly.”

When passing by the Austrian Hospice on the route to the Western Wall, one teenager climbed up the walls of the Old City with an Israeli flag, hanging it on the minaret of a mosque as the crowd beneath him cheered.

Police, who were there on the scene, did not stop the youth from climbing up two stories and placing the flag.

Wednesday morning, before the Flag March, religious nationalist Jewish teenagers thronged the narrow streets of the Old City, singing psalms and occasionally harassing shopkeepers as they closed early for the day.

Police said five participants were arrested for attacking journalists in the Old City prior to the march. The suspects, all ultranationalist Jewish youths, “threw objects at journalists who were standing nearby,” the police said.

Haaretz reporter Nir Hasson was attacked by right-wing youths while reporting in the Old City ahead of the march, the news outlet reported.

According to Haaretz, Hasson was knocked to the ground by several assailants and kicked until Border Police officers intervened.

The attack was one of several attempts by youth to prevent journalists from filming them ahead of the annual march.

A Times of Israel reporter had his cellphone knocked out of his hands while filming.

“We strongly condemn any attempt to harm journalists and media personnel carrying out their duties, as well as any other individuals,” police said in a statement.

“These lawless aggressors disrupt all participants in the parade, both through their violent behavior and through the vile and unacceptable shouts heard from their mouths.”

Standing in front of his shop only meters from the clashes, Rimon Himo, a resident of the Muslim Quarter, said that the situation was “very bad.”

“They could pass by without bothering anybody or making trouble, but as you know they are coming here to make trouble,” he said.

An Arab photojournalist also sustained a minor cut on his forehead earlier after he was shoved by a police officer.

US State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller panned the attacks on journalists.

“Attacks of that nature should be prevented when possible and when they can’t be prevented, they should be fully prosecuted. People should be held accountable under the law,” said Miller after being asked about the attacks during a press briefing.

‘Stupid and scandalous’

The march has seen violent scuffles in years past, with participants ignoring law enforcement’s pleas for calm, and brawling with Palestinian residents of the Old City.

Also present on the scene in the morning was a cadre of a few dozen left-wing activists with the organization Standing Together, which made headlines recently for its “humanitarian guard” aimed at protecting aid convoys to the Gaza Strip.

Touting that endeavor as a resounding success, the group decided to copy-paste the strategy in the Old City on Wednesday, hoping to ward off violence towards Palestinians.

The activists mostly stood between violent youth and Palestinian locals, filming tense moments in hopes that their attention would prevent any escalation. Some Israelis taking part in the Jerusalem Day revelry tried to block activists’ phone cameras from filming, a tactic they also used on journalists.

Standing Together founder Alon Lee-Green called the Flag March “a show of incitement and racism that every year reaches new levels of hatred.”

“Despite the tensions it creates, the police allow it to pass through the heart of the Palestinian neighborhoods in East Jerusalem. This year, in light of the fact that we already have enough violent and dangerous fronts, the decision to allow it to pass through the Palestinian neighborhoods and provoke the residents there, is nothing less than stupid and scandalous,” he said to The Times of Israel.

Another small group of Israelis opposed to the nationalist parade associated with the coexistence organization Tag Meir went around the Old City passing out flowers to Arab residents, in what organizers dubbed a “flower march.”

Avidan Freedman, a religious Israeli from the settlement of Efrat who participated in that event, thought it was important to show the residents of the Old City “another face of Israelis and Judaism.”

Jewish Israelis hand out flowers to Palestinian residents of the Old City as part of a “flower march” organized by coexistence organization Tag Meir ahead of the nationalist Jerusalem Day Flag Parade on June 5, 2024. (Gadi Gvaryahu/Tag Meir)

Freedman told The Times of Israel that he has been attending the annual flower march for a few years now, and this time experienced much more vitriol from nationalist Jewish Israelis than he had in previous years.

“This year, I think there’s definitely people who are coming with a lot more anger — really on all sides — but especially the paraders,” he said.

Far-right activist Baruch Marzel, a founder of the ultranationalist Otzma Yehudit party, distanced the marchers from the attacks on Arabs and journalists by Jewish extremists, arguing that those involved in the violence did not represent the event’s participants.

The march’s organizers work closely with the police to keep things calm and safe, he told The Times of Israel, while wearing a sticker extolling Rabbi Kahane.

Officials have often faced calls both within and outside Israel to alter the route of the march to avoid passing through the Muslim Quarter and inflaming tensions.

Police arrest a Jewish man at Damascus Gate in Jerusalem’s Old City, during Jerusalem Day celebrations, June 5, 2024. (Jamal Awad/Flash90)

Ascending to the Temple Mount

After reported pressure from Ben Gvir, police confirmed on Monday that they would be maintaining the usual routes from downtown Jerusalem to the Western Wall. Police stressed that the march would not pass through the Temple Mount site, a flashpoint for violence in the Old City, while Ben Gvir — who regularly attends the march — called on participants to tour the holy site during the limited visiting hours for non-Muslims.

“We need to hit them in the most important place for them,” Ben Gvir told Army Radio on Tuesday morning. “We need to come and say ‘the Temple Mount is ours and Jerusalem is ours.’ If we see ourselves as the sovereign of the area, our enemies will respect us.”

Ben Gvir later told Galei Israel Radio that his policy was to allow Jewish prayer at the contested Jerusalem holy site. The Prime Minister’s Office countered this, saying the unwritten and politically fraught status quo according to which Jews are forbidden from praying at the site had not changed.

Participants in the annual Jerusalem Day Flag March through the Arab Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem, June 5, 2024. (Sam Sokol/Times of Israel)

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