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Far-right MK Ben Gvir says he will march anyway

Police nix contentious Jerusalem flag march, angering nationalists

Authorities say event will be reconsidered if date and route changed, but head of Religious Zionism party and others fume that decision is ‘capitulation to terror’

Participants in the Flag March in Jerusalem's Old City on May 10, 2021. (Nati Shohat/Flash90
Participants in the Flag March in Jerusalem's Old City on May 10, 2021. (Nati Shohat/Flash90

Police on Monday withheld approval for a planned nationalist march through Jerusalem slated for later this week amid fears that it could renew tensions in the powder keg city, drawing furious condemnations from right-wing politicians.

Organizers had sought to hold a rescheduled flag march through the Muslim Quarter of the Old City on Thursday after the original march on May 10 was stopped short by rocket fire from Hamas at Jerusalem, which sparked an 11-day bout of intense fighting.

Police reportedly sought to reroute the planned march away from the areas where it could cause a surfeit of friction between nationalist Jews and Palestinian residents of Jerusalem.

On Monday morning, nationalist politicians and parade organizers accused police of giving in to terror by canceling the parade.

Thousands of mostly young, Jewish teenagers wave Israeli flags as they march through the Damascus Gate and into the Muslim Quarter on their way to the Western Wall to celebrate Jerusalem Day on June 05, 2016. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

In an official announcement, Jerusalem police denied that they had called off the parade, but said that the date of the march should be approved by law enforcement and relevant political authorities.

“With the current plan and current date, the march is not approved,” the statement read.

Police said they would re-examine the march should organizers file for a permit with a new plan or new date.

Bezalel Smotrich, leader of the hard-right Religious Zionism party, called the decision to delay the march “an embarrassing capitulation to terror and to Hamas threats.”

Religious Zionism leader Bezalel Smotrich speaks during a press conference at the Knesset on May 26, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“While we are arguing over what kind of government to have, Yahya Sinwar is running things here,” Smotrich tweeted, referring to the head of Hamas in Gaza.

Others also expressed anger.

“It seems the side that ended up deterred after Operation Guardian of the Walls is the State of Israel, which caved to the threats of terrorists and is not allowing a march of Israeli flags through the capital of the State of Israel,” march organizer Yehuda Wald said, according to the Srugim website, referring to the conflict with Gaza-based terrorists in May.

Israelis wave national flags during a Jerusalem Day march, in Jerusalem, May 10, 2021. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

The May 10 march, which came amid heightened tensions over planned evictions in an East Jerusalem neighborhood and a police clampdown of rioting on the Temple Mount, had also been rerouted to avoid the Damascus Gate and the Muslim Quarter, following pressure from the Biden administration, concerned that the parade could cause tensions to boil over.

The annual Jerusalem Day event sees thousands of nationalist Jews march through Muslim-majority parts of Jerusalem toward the Western Wall, in a show of sovereignty to mark the Hebrew anniversary of the city’s east side being captured by Israel during the Six Day War of 1967. The route has long been deemed provocative by Israeli and Palestinian critics, since local Arab proprietors are forced to shutter their stores so law enforcement can secure the Palestinian-majority area for the mainly nationalist Jewish revelers.

Israelis stream into Jerusalem’s Old City through the Jaffa Gate during the annual flag march on May 10, 2021. (Sarah Tuttle-Singer/Times of Israel)

Right-wing lawmakers and religious nationalist groups were furious over the decision to reroute the parade last month, and had briefly considered canceling the event altogether.

Last week, organizers announced that the parade had been rescheduled for Thursday and would go through the traditional, controversial route. The outcry was swift, with the Biden administration reportedly sending messages to Jerusalem urging that the march once again be rerouted.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz held consultations over the matter and subsequently issued a statement in favor of moving the event. Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi penned a letter to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warning of the “international sensitivity” that surrounds Israel’s actions in Jerusalem.

Israelis and Palestinians wave flags as Israelis march in celebration of Jerusalem Day outside Damascus Gate in Jerusalem’s Old City, on May 8, 2013. (photo credit: AP/Sebastian Scheiner, File)

On Sunday, the Palestinian Fatah party called on its members to mobilize to confront the planned march.

Fatah told its cadres “to stand together effectively, to defend Jerusalem and the Islamic and Christian holy sites, and to confront the march of the extremist settlers.”

Fatah has suffered criticism in Palestinian domestic circles in recent weeks. Its leadership, including Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, has been attacked as ineffectual in opposing Israeli policies in Jerusalem, which Palestinians hope to see as the capital of their future state.

Its main rival Hamas, meanwhile, has seen a boost in popularity following the recent mini-war between the terror group and Israel. Hamas claimed the thousands of rockets it fired at Israeli cities and towns were a response to Israeli actions in Jerusalem, especially on the Temple Mount holy site.

MK Itamar Ben-Gvir (front), head of the Jewish extremist Otzma Yehudit party, with Bentzi Goptein, head of the extreme-right Lehava group, in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of East Jerusalem on May 6, 2021. (Ahmad Gharabli/AFP)

As reports of the planned re-routing spread Sunday night, far-right Religious Zionism MK Itamar Ben Gvir issued a statement vowing to use his parliamentary immunity to march through the Muslim Quarter with Israeli flags if police refused to allow the event to move forward.

“It is unacceptable for the Israeli government to surrender to Hamas and allow it to dictate the agenda. It is the right of every Jew to march throughout Jerusalem, and that is precisely why I was elected to the Knesset — in order to preserve the right of the Jewish people in the Land of Israel,” he said.

He doubled down on his vow after the announcement Monday, saying he would still walk through and called on other Knesset members to join him.

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