TV: Netanyahu office warned Ben Gvir of Gaza rockets if he didn’t leave E. J’lem

Report says someone at PMO urged far-right MK to pack up his makeshift ‘parliamentary office’ in Sheikh Jarrah, as clashes raged in the flashpoint neighborhood Thursday

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)
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)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office urged a far-right Knesset member to pack up his “parliamentary office” in an East Jerusalem neighborhood that has been a recent flashpoint, as clashes escalated there Thursday, Israeli television reported.

According to a Channel 12 news report Friday, someone at the Prime Minister’s Office told MK Itamar Ben Gvir there was intelligence that if he did not leave Sheikh Jarrah, Palestinian terror groups in the Gaza Strip could immediately fire rockets at Jerusalem.

On Thursday evening, Ben Gvir set up what he declared to be a parliamentary office in the neighborhood — a table under an awning with a sign — in response to what he said was a lack of protection for Jewish families in the area.

According to Channel 12, after getting the warning, Ben Gvir continued to insist that police presence in Sheikh Jarrah be increased, with the Prime Minister’s Office subsequently reaching out to police, who in turn said they were ready to boost their forces in the neighborhood. The network did not cite a source.

Ben Gvir, however, did not agree to leave the area until receiving a call from the same unspecified person on Friday morning.

“There will be a permanent [police] presence there. Get out of there as quickly as possible,” the person reportedly said.

The network said the Prime Minister’s Office would not comment on the report.

Far-right MK Itamar Ben Gvir (C) eats dried dates as he sits at the table in his make-shift “parliamentary office” (as described in Hebrew in the sign behind), in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of East Jerusalem, on May 6, 2021. To Ben Gvir’s left is Bentzi Gopstein, head of the extremist Lehava group. (Ahmad Gharabli/AFP)

The network also broadcast an interview with Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai, who urged politicians to act responsibly.

“It doesn’t matter at the moment from what [political] side, because this has very, very serious consequences for all the State of Israel,” he said.

Pressed specifically about Ben Gvir, Shabtai responded, “I’m not getting into names.”

Ben Gvir is a disciple of the late extremist rabbi Meir Kahane and head of the neo-Kahanist Otzma Yehudit party, which merged into Religious Zionism before the election in an alliance pushed for by Netanyahu. Ben Gvir spent many hours in court as a defendant in his youth before passing the bar and going on to represent ultra-nationalist Jews accused of perpetrating racially motivated attacks against Arab Israelis and Palestinians.

Sheikh Jarrah has seen rising tensions over the last week as dozens of Palestinians are at risk of being evicted following a long legal battle with right-wing Jewish Israelis trying to acquire property in the neighborhood, which is just north of Jerusalem’s Old City.

Pro-Palestinian protesters have been meeting for nightly iftars — the meal held after breaking the day-long fast during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan — at long tables set up outside. Ben Gvir set up his table and awning across the street from the iftar meal.

Footage Thursday showed an Israeli spraying what appeared to be pepper spray at the Palestinian iftar table, leading to a violent clash.

Video circulating online later showed protesters on both sides hurling rocks and chairs at each other, and Palestinians tearing down the awning, before police moved in. There were no reports of serious injuries.

Police arrested at least 15 people, all of them Palestinians. In one incident, a Jewish Israeli man fired into the air after a vehicle was set on fire.

LArge clashes again broke out in Sheikh Jarrah on Friday, with police arresting two people on suspicion of rock-throwing. Violence also erupted on the nearby Temple Mount in Jerusalem’s Old City, with hundreds of Palestinians rioting and dozens injured as they clashed with police.

Tensions in Jerusalem, specifically around the Old City, reached a boiling point last month after police prevented people from congregating outside Damascus Gate at the start of Ramadan, which Arabs said was an inflammatory move that obstructed a long-held tradition of gathering at the site during the Muslim holy month. Authorities later canceled the policy.

After some Palestinians filmed videos in which they attacked ultra-Orthodox passersby, the Jewish supremacist Lehava group, whose leader Bentzi Gopstein was present in Sheikh Jarrah alongside Ben Gvir, responded by marching through Jerusalem’s downtown calling for “Death to Arabs” and searching for Palestinians to attack, leading to intense clashes.

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