'March will continue as planned, as usual, on its route'

Netanyahu vows contentious Jerusalem Flag March will again go through Muslim Quarter

2,000 police officers to secure Thursday’s event, which annually stirs Jewish-Arab tension; several ministers – including far-right Itamar Ben Gvir – expected to attend

Carrie Keller-Lynn is a political and legal correspondent for The Times of Israel

Far-right leader and politician Itamar Ben Gvir during the Flags March at Damascus Gate in Jerusalem's Old City, June 15, 2021 (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
Far-right leader and politician Itamar Ben Gvir during the Flags March at Damascus Gate in Jerusalem's Old City, June 15, 2021 (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu confirmed on Monday that a controversial nationalist parade will take place in Jerusalem on Thursday, including its annual stride through the Old City’s Muslim Quarter.

“The flag march will continue as planned, as usual, on its route,” Netanyahu said at the outset of his Likud party’s Knesset faction meeting.

The Israel Police approved the route last week, and said it plans to deploy more than 2,000 police officers to prepare the ground, protect marchers, and preserve order.

Jerusalem Day’s Flag March sparks tensions annually and is usually met with calls to change its route to avoid disrupting locals’ daily routine. The timing this year is especially delicate in light of the fresh ceasefire between Israel and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror group after five days of deadly conflict.

In 2021, the Jerusalem march served as a pretext for the Hamas terror group to launch an 11-day conflict, dubbed by Israel as Operation Guardian of the Walls.

National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir, who has a history of ties to nationalist far-right groups, is expected to attend the rally this week. Last year, security services kept the then-MK away from the Damascus Gate entrance to the Old City, a site of frequent conflict between Palestinians and Israeli police in the Muslim Quarter.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leads a Likud faction meeting at the Knesset in Jerusalem, May 15, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, Likud lawmakers and ultra-Orthodox Jerusalem Minister Meir Porush are also expected to join the event alongside tens of thousands of marchers, mostly from the national-religious community.

Police have said they do not sense a heightened threat to the event based on their social media monitoring, according to Hebrew media.

Netanyahu said Monday that Israel has “changed the deterence equation” with terror groups in the Gaza Strip following the five-day conflict.

“Anyone coming to hurt us,” the prime minister said at the outset of his Likud party’s faction meeting at the Knesset, “will [now] better understand the meaning of the words ‘his blood is on his own hands.’”

Such a statement “is important to say” before Thursday’s march, he added.

The annual Flag March has long become associated with religious Zionism, a movement that sees it a religious imperative to hold the land of Israel under Jewish sovereignty. The march is leveraged by extremist nationalists to antagonize Arab residents, and Arab East Jerusalemites interpret the parade as a provocation.

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