ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 138

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Police brace for all possibilities at Jerusalem Flag March as Hamas issues threats

Over 2,000 cops will secure controversial parade through Old City’s Muslim Quarter; officials say they are prepared for Gaza rocket fire but do not consider such an attack likely

Jeremy Sharon is The Times of Israel’s legal affairs and settlements reporter

Thousands of Jews wave Israeli flags as they celebrate Jerusalem Day by dancing at Damascus Gate in Jerusalem's Old City, during Jerusalem Day, May 29, 2022. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)
Thousands of Jews wave Israeli flags as they celebrate Jerusalem Day by dancing at Damascus Gate in Jerusalem's Old City, during Jerusalem Day, May 29, 2022. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)

Jerusalem Police were in the throes of intensive preparations Tuesday for securing Thursday’s Jerusalem Day Flag March, including drills for potential rocket fire from the Gaza Strip — although such an attack is not thought to be likely.

More than 2,000 police officers will secure the controversial march, along with more than 1,000 other security personnel who will ensure that other events in the capital throughout the day are adequately protected, the force announced Tuesday afternoon.

The annual parade is organized by right-wing and religious organizations to commemorate Israel’s unification of Jerusalem and the capture of the Old City, including the Western Wall and Temple Mount, in the 1967 Six Day War.

The march generates friction with Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem and the Old City as it proceeds through the Muslim Quarter, and is often attended by ultranationalist and far-right politicians.

Police shut down Palestinian businesses in the area and limit the movement of residents in order to facilitate the procession and avoid confrontation with the Jewish marchers.

Nationalistic and even racist chants are frequently sung by marchers, further exacerbating tensions during the event, and arrests of Palestinian residents during the march are common.

Itamar Ben Gvir during a flag march at Damascus Gate in Jerusalem’s Old City, June 15, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

The march this Thursday will begin in Jerusalem’s city center, enter the Old City from the Damascus Gate in the Muslim Quarter and proceed toward the Jewish Quarter ending up in the Western Wall plaza.

A separate route, often designated for women, will wend around the western side of the Old City and enter via Zion Gate before reaching the Western Wall.

Central Jerusalem roads including Keren Hayesod, King George and Bezalel streets will be shut down during the parade Thursday afternoon, and public transport will be redirected to alternative routes.

During a briefing on Tuesday afternoon, Jerusalem District Police Commander Doron Turgeman emphasized that despite rumors circulated on social media, the march will not enter the Temple Mount complex and Israeli flags will not be allowed at the sensitive site.

In response to a question about possible rocket fire on Jerusalem from Gaza during the Jerusalem Day events, Turgeman said that the police are preparing for every eventuality including rocket fire, but the force later stressed that rocket fire was not currently considered a central threat to the Jerusalem Day events.

The Hamas terror group on Tuesday called on Palestinians to attend morning prayers at the Al-Aqsa Mosque on Thursday and warned Israel not to “cross any red lines.”

Ali Baraka of Hamas (Screenshot)

“Any violation of our red lines will mean that the resistance will have a say,” said the terror group’s representative in Lebanon, Ali Baraka.

Baraka called for the masses to attend morning prayers in a show of strength and said the march is a “provocation to the Palestinian people and a violation of the sanctity of Al-Aqsa.”

In 2021, the Jerusalem march served as a pretext for Hamas to launch an 11-day conflict, which included rocket fire on Jerusalem during the march.

Police make an arrest during the annual Flag March for Jerusalem Day outside the Damascus Gate of the Old City of Jerusalem, June 1, 2011. (Matanya Tausig/Flash90)

Turgerman said during a separate tour of the Flags March route with other senior police officers on Monday: “Those who come to Jerusalem for these events have to be able to see us [the police] and see that we’re doing our best. They rely on us and they come because we are here.”

Co-existence organizations such as the Tag Meir group often stage small counter-protests against the march, and will for the ninth year distribute flowers to residents of the Old City in their own procession on Thursday morning before the Flag March.

The left-wing Ir Amim organization condemned the march on Tuesday and said the debate regarding the event, which mostly focuses on security concerns, should be replaced by one discussing the moral issues of the procession.

“Passing through the Muslim Quarter and Damascus Gate while restricting the movement of Palestinians in the area while singing loudly ‘Your village will burn’ and ‘Death to Arabs’; the physical and verbal violence; [this is] a march full of hate, a march of Jewish Supremacy in the heart of Palestinian space,” the organization tweeted.

Im Tirtzu, one of the event organizers, declined to comment on the upcoming march.

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