Police to let individuals chant 'Death to Arabs,' not groups

Police set to let far-right MK Ben Gvir visit Temple Mt. before Sunday’s Flag March

Final decision to be made Sunday morning; in contrast, potential visit by Arab lawmakers to Damascus Gate will reportedly be seen as ‘provocation,’ MKs may be removed by force

MK Itamar Ben Gvir attends a march by right-wing activists through Jerusalem's Old City, April 20, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
MK Itamar Ben Gvir attends a march by right-wing activists through Jerusalem's Old City, April 20, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Police are expected to allow far-right MK Itamar Ben Gvir to visit the Temple Mount on Sunday amid soaring tensions around the contentious Jerusalem Day Flag March, which is set to take a route through the Old City’s Muslim Quarter later that day.

Police believe that while Ben Gvir’s potential visit could lead to a significant escalation in the security situation, any consequent clashes could be contained and controlled, the Haaretz daily reported Friday.

The report said officials from other security bodies, such as the Shin Bet, were part of the security assessment meeting and also did not raise objections to Ben Gvir’s visit.

A final decision on the matter is set to be made in the early hours of Sunday as part of a situational assessment led by Jerusalem District Police Commander Doron Turgeman.

Earlier this week, Ben Gvir advised the Knesset, as is protocol, that he planned to visit the Temple Mount on Sunday.

The Old City compound is the holiest site for Jews, and the Al-Aqsa Mosque, which sits atop the Temple Mount, is the third-holiest shrine for Muslims. Jews are not allowed to pray there, but visits are approved with limited conditions.

Far-right MK Itamar Ben Gvir at the Western Wall before entering the Temple Mount compound in Jerusalem’s Old City on March 31, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/ FLASH90)

Ben Gvir, seen by many as a provocateur, last visited the holy site in March. His previous visits to sensitive sites, including the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah last spring, have served to ratchet up tensions and fighting.

The planned visit is set to take place just hours ahead of the controversial Jerusalem Day Flag March. Hamas fired a barrage of rockets at Jerusalem during last May’s march, sparking an 11-day Gaza-Israel war.

Palestinian terror groups and the Iran-backed Hezbollah in Lebanon have issued threats of violence if the parade proceeds, as planned, through Damascus Gate into the Old City en route to the Western Wall.

But Israeli leaders vowed Friday that they would not be intimidated by threats of violence from terror groups and that the parade would go ahead as planned through the Muslim Quarter as in the past.

In contrast to greenlighting Ben Gvir’s potential Temple Mount visit, police have warned Arab lawmakers against “provocations,” Channel 13 news reported.

The report said that police believe Arab MKs may go to Damascus Gate ahead of the parade so that they will be at the site when the marchers arrive — a move that will be seen as provocative.

An unnamed senior police officer told the network that if that were to happen, “we will not hesitate to move [the Arab MKs] out, by force if necessary.”

Jewish men dance with Israeli flags during the March of Flags near Jerusalem’s Old City, June 15, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Sunday marks Jerusalem Day, the anniversary of the unification of the city during the 1967 Six Day War. Israeli nationalists mark the day with an annual march of flag-waving participants, which usually proceeds via Damascus Gate through the Old City’s densely populated Muslim Quarter and to the Western Wall.

The parade’s route is fraught, with opponents seeing its procession through the Muslim Quarter as a provocation, and supporters seeing it as an expression of Israel’s sovereignty over Jerusalem.

Previous years have seen marchers chanting “Death to Arabs” as well as “Shuafat is on fire,” referring to the East Jerusalem neighborhood, and “Jerusalem is ours.”

According to the Kan public broadcaster, police will not move to prevent individual marchers from chanting racist slogans, but will move in to stop groups from shouting the phrases.

In anticipation of Sunday, the Border Police called up three units — a total of 200 reservists — who underwent 24 hours of refresher training, including crowd dispersal methods, and mental preparedness for the event, a spokesperson said.

Israeli Border Police officers stand guard near the Temple Mount in Jerusalem’s Old City, on May 25, 2022. (Yossi Aloni/Flash90)

Police have already announced that they will be on their highest state of alert and mobilize over 3,000 officers in Jerusalem.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz said Friday that the parade will go ahead as planned, and that “we will hold whatever kind of march we want to in our capital,” and warned Hamas “you will not threaten our sovereignty.”

Gantz said he believed that there would not be a repeat of the Hamas rocket barrage toward Jerusalem during last year’s march that sparked a bitter 11-day conflict between Israel and terror groups in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip.

“Last year Hamas decided to fire rockets, and it still regrets that Operation Guardian of the Walls ever happened,” Gantz said referring to the Israeli response that inflicted widespread damage on the terror groups and the Strip.

Israelis take cover as a siren sounds warning of incoming rockets from the Gaza Strip, during Jerusalem Day, in Jerusalem, May 10, 2021. (Flash90)

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett also said Friday that the route would go through the Muslim Quarter as planned. Apparently seeking to defuse calls by terror groups to Palestinians to defend Al-Aqsa Mosque atop the Temple Mount from the nationalist marchers, Bennett noted that the parade does not go to the Temple Mount.

Speaking after a security consultation with top law enforcement officials, including Public Security Minister Omer Barlev and Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai, Bennett noted that the march will end at the Western Wall as usual.

Also, Friday, police said that in a bid to prevent clashes, only senior police officers will have the authority to order the taking down of Palestinian flags during the march if they pose a risk or constitute provocation.

Israel’s police forces have been under intense scrutiny and global criticism over officers’ violent behavior at the May 13 funeral of slain Al Jazeera reporter Shireen Abu Akleh.

Officers rushed her funeral procession, almost causing the casket to fall, in part in a bid to take down Palestinian flags, which Israel sees as a challenge to its authority in the capital.

In the lead-up to Sunday, Israel has faced pressure to change the route of the march from the international community, including from the US. Left-wing members of the coalition have also called for a change.

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

The UN’s Mideast envoy Tor Wennesland called on Saturday for “all sides to exercise maximum restraint and make wise decisions to avoid another violent conflict that will only claim more lives.” Wennesland said he had been in contact with all “concerned parties” ahead of Sunday’s march.

Police blocked nationalists intending to hold a similar march through the Old City last month but gave the go-ahead for the Jerusalem Day parade to follow its traditional route, reigniting Palestinian anger and setting war drums beating again.

Israel has stressed to Hamas via mediators that the march route is no different from that of previous years, and does not include the Temple Mount.

Nevertheless, the Hamas and Islamic Jihad terror groups have been readying rocket launchers and put their armed wings on high alert ahead of Jerusalem Day, Israeli and Palestinian media sources reported Thursday. At the same time, the Al-Quds Palestinian daily said the Gaza groups are not interested in being drawn into a conflict at this time, as it would disrupt work to rehabilitate Gaza from last year’s fighting with Israel.

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