Violence erupts at Old City flashpoint as far right’s Ben Gvir holds protest

Controversy-courting lawmaker carries Israeli flag to Damascus Gate after police ban him from marching through Muslim Quarter; at least 5 arrested; Hamas issues warning

Far-right Religious Zionism party lawmaker MK Itamar Ben Gvir visits the Damascus Gate of the Old City of Jerusalem, June 10, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Far-right Religious Zionism party lawmaker MK Itamar Ben Gvir visits the Damascus Gate of the Old City of Jerusalem, June 10, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Clashes broke out Thursday afternoon between East Jerusalem protesters and Israel Police, as far-right lawmaker Itamar Ben Gvir marched to the flashpoint Damascus Gate entrance to the Old City. Ben Gvir waved an Israeli flag at the site, in what he said was a personal protest, after police banned him from parading through the Muslim Quarter to reach the Temple Mount.

At least five people were arrested, as hundreds of people were reported to take part in scuffles between Arabs and Ben Gvir’s Jewish supporters. One of those arrested reportedly snatched an Israeli flag from the hands of a Ben Gvir supporter.

Police used riot dispersal means, including flashbangs against protesters. There were no immediate reports of injuries.

Last month, clashes on the Temple Mount and around the Damascus Gate spiraled into a major confrontation between Israel and terror groups in the Gaza Strip. The fighting ended with a fragile ceasefire between Israel and Gaza’s Hamas rulers.

After Ben Gvir’s visit, and amid the rioting that followed, the Hamas military wing issued a statement saying that it was watching the developments closely.

“The Al-Qassam Brigades and the leadership of the resistance are closely following the provocative and aggressive actions by the usurpers and their leaders in Jerusalem and the Al-Aqsa Mosque,” the group said in a statement. “They warn against harming Al-Aqsa, and salute her free defenders in Jerusalem for their confrontation and resistance of the desecration of Al-Aqsa and the aggression against it.”

Ben Gvir went to the gate after the High Court of Justice earlier rejected his appeal against a decision by police to stop him from marching through the Muslim Quarter. Police were concerned the march could reignite violence in the city and beyond. Ben Gvir had planned to march in protest of the postponement by authorities of a much larger annual flag march through the Old City by nationalist Jewish groups.

That march had been scheduled for Thursday, and is now expected to take place on Tuesday — as long as organizers and police can agree on its route.

Police seen during clashes with protesters following a visit of right-wing Religious Zionism party lawmaker MK Itamar Ben Gvir at the Damascus Gate of the Old City of Jerusalem, on June 10, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Ben Gvir, of the Religious Zionism party, has repeatedly been accused of deliberately stoking unrest.

Under heavy security from Border Police, Ben Gvir stood at Damascus Gate and demanded that Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai resign for “surrendering to terror.”

He said he had come to protest the “disgrace” that “a member of the Knesset cannot walk through the Old City” and called the ban against him a “surrender to terror by the police chief, complete subservience.”

Having said that he would not confront the police, Ben Gvir nonetheless slammed the force’s decision to prevent him from heading for the Temple Mount.

“The very fact that an MK in Israel cannot march in the Old City is a surrender to Hamas and terrorism; it is a victory of terrorism,” Ben Gvir charged. “Of course, we will not give up Jerusalem, we will not give up the Old City. “

“These terrorists,” he said as he pointed at Arab protesters who gathered to demonstrate against his visit, “make threats, Israel surrenders, and the person who brought this upon us is the police chief.”

“I will not fold. The police chief is a failure and he needs to go. I will remain in Jerusalem,” Ben Gvir said.

Far-right Religious Zionism party MK Itamar Ben Gvir visits the Damascus Gate of the Old City of Jerusalem, on June 10, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The ban against Ben Gvir, which Channel 12 news said on Wednesday constituted an unprecedented removal of an MK’s immunity rights, was endorsed by Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit.

Knesset Speaker Yariv Levin (Likud) on Wednesday night asked Mandelblit to reconsider.

The high-level security cabinet on Tuesday evening announced the contentious flag march planned in Jerusalem would be permitted to take place in one week, if police approve the route.

Israeli Police Chief Kobi Shabtai on January 8, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Police had initially refused to authorize the event, which was set to follow a path through the Old City’s Damascus Gate entrance and Muslim Quarter, concerned of the potential for the parade to inflame tensions in the city and spark a fresh wave of unrest there, and potentially in other locations.

The Hamas terror group had warned of “consequences” if the march passed through Damascus Gate.

The original flag march on May 10 was stopped short by rocket fire from Hamas at Jerusalem during the unrest last month, which sparked an 11-day bout of intense fighting.

The Temple Mount is the holiest place in Judaism, as the site of the biblical Temples. It is the site of the third-holiest shrine in Islam, the Al-Aqsa Mosque, and has been a frequent flashpoint of violence.

Israel captured the Temple Mount and Jerusalem’s Old City in the 1967 Six Day War and extended sovereignty throughout Jerusalem. However, it allowed the Jordanian Waqf to continue to maintain religious authority atop the mount, where Jews are allowed to visit under numerous restrictions, but not to pray.

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