Ashkenazi warns PM of growing int'l sensitivity on Jerusalem

Police seek to reroute right-wing Jerusalem march to avoid Muslim Quarter

Commanders back alternative path in order to avoid friction with Palestinians, but final approval from government still required

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

Senior police commanders have reportedly backed a plan to reroute a planned right-wing nationalist march through Jerusalem later this week to avoid the Damascus Gate and Muslim Quarter of the Old City due to fears that the demonstration could spark further violence in the capital and beyond.

The decision was made following consultations held Sunday evening, though police want the government to sign off on the plan, Channel 12 and Army Radio reported.

The flag march is held annually on Jerusalem Day, which was on May 10 this year. However, it was canceled midway through, after Hamas fired several barrages of rockets toward the city, sparking an 11-day military conflict between the Gaza-ruling terror group and Israel. Hours before, the government agreed to reroute the march to avoid Damascus Gate and the Muslim Quarter, following pressure from the Biden administration, concerned that the parade could cause tensions to boil over.

The parade does traditionally go through the Muslim Quarter, though the route has long been deemed as provocative by Israeli and Palestinian critics, given that local Arab shop owners 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 briefly considered cancelling the event altogether.

On Friday, 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.

On Saturday, Defense Minister Benny Gantz held consultations over the matter and subsequently issued a statement in favor of moving the event.

Additionally, Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi penned a letter to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warning of the “international sensitivity” that surrounds Israel’s actions in Jerusalem.

In the letter, received by Channel 12, Ashkenazi wrote to Netanyahu: “Even before [the Gaza war], and even more so after it, we are witnessing a significant increase in international sensitivity in relation to what is happening in Jerusalem.

“This is reflected in the events surrounding the legal discussions on the issue of [evictions in the] Sheikh Jarrah and Silwan neighborhoods as well as around the events at the Temple Mount and arrests made there,” Ashkenazi said.

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

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)

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.

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.

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