Bennett Bars Far-right Lawmaker From Illegal March Through Jerusalem's Muslim Quarter

On Shin Bet's recommendation, Bennett bars far-right lawmaker from Jerusalem flag march ■ Organizers vow to pass through Damascus Gate after stalemate in police negotiations

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MK Itamar Ben-Gvir participating in a march to the West Bank settler outpost of Homesh, Tuesday.
MK Itamar Ben-Gvir participating in a march to the West Bank settler outpost of Homesh, Tuesday.Credit: Amir Levy

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett has decided to forbid far-right lawmaker Itamar Ben-Gvir from visiting Damascus Gate in Jerusalem's Old City, as right-wing organizers announced they plan to press on with a flag march on Wednesday despite Israel Police's opposition.

"I have no intention of letting puny politics endanger lives," Bennett said. "I will not allow Ben-Gvir's political provocation to endanger the lives of IDF soldiers and Israel Police officers."

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The prime minister made the decision to bar the Kahanist lawmaker from participating in the march based on recommendations from the Shin Bet security service and Public Security Minister Omer Bar-Lev.

Ben-Gvir fired back, "I do not receive instructions from Bennett, Bar-Lev and the Shura Council."

"A day after closing the Temple Mount to Jews under the direction of the Shura Council, Prime Minister Bennett has finally divided Jerusalem and banned the raising of the Israeli flag," he said. "After he abandoned policemen and civilians, he became a dictator who violates the freedom of movement of Knesset members, in violation of the Immunity Law."

The Immunity Law prohibits restricting Knesset members from accessing any location across the country "unless the prohibition or restriction was for reasons of state security."

Organized by 'Youth of the Old City' and other right-wing groups, officials fear the march could kindle already-high tensions in the city and police are refusing to provide security on its current path as a result.

“We know what happened last year during the march and the firing of the rockets from Gaza that led to Operation Guardian of the Walls, and we don’t want a Guardian of the Walls 2, so the police will not approve the march and will act according to the law in this case,” a senior police officer told Haaretz.

Religious Jews tour the Al-Aqsa mosque compound on Wednesday.Credit: MENAHEM KAHANA - AFP

The groups plan to dance at Damascus Gate, the main gathering point for Muslims during Ramadan, and then march into the Old City via the Muslim Quarter. They said they would also stop to "dance" at Damascus Gate and would also pass the Ophel area, where on Sunday young Palestinians threw stones at buses carrying Jewish passengers. Seven passengers were lightly injured.

In a defiant statement, they accused Naftali Bennett's government of "surrendering to terror and pressuring the police to stop the march," blaming the lack of approval on threats by his coalition partner, United Arab List leader Mansour Abbas, and the Islamic movement.

Although they initially said they will not march in violation of the police’s orders, the organizers called for the public to come to Safra Square in front of Jerusalem Municipality at 5 P.M. for the start of the march, saying, “We will bring back the feeling of safety to the streets of Jerusalem.”

Hamas responded in a press release, saying they were warning the occupation and the marchers approaching the holy sites, adding that the "occupation's leadership" should bear full responsibility for the consequences of these dangerous and provocative moves.

The police confirmed that the organizers of the march initially agreed on Tuesday to a plan that did not include passing through areas of friction – but after the police also agreed to the alternate route the organizers backtracked. “At this stage, the police will not approve the holding of the protest march in the requested format,” Israel Police said in a statement released on Wednesday.

On Wednesday, the organizers doubled down on the planned route through the Old City and said that the police cannot stop them from marching, though they later said they had offered a new compromise, but that Israel Police withdrew its initial offer and cut communications with the organizers.

The march comes amidst heightened tensions in Jerusalem, with clashes between security forces and Palestinians culminating in Israeli forces' incursions into Al-Aqsa Mosque itself on Friday/

Religious Jewish tourists in Jerusalem's Old City this week.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg

On Wednesday, further clashes took place between Palestinians and the police at the Al-Aqsa Compound, known to Jews as the Temple Mount. A firebomb thrown by a Palestinian started a small fire in the mosque, which was quickly put out, while Palestinians also threw rocks at the police, who had come up on the compound, the site of Al-Aqsa Mosque, to protect Jews visiting the holy site on the Passover holiday.

Fire at Al-Aqsa Mosque caused by a firebomb on WednesdayCredit:

A total of 1,538 Jews visited the Temple Mount on Wednesday, in what organizations encouraging Jews to visit the holiest site in Judaism said was a record figure for the interim days of Passover. Three Jews were detained after they sang at the site, in violation of the status quo agreement which forbids Jews from praying at the Temple Mount.

A 'flag march' in Jerusalem's Old City, last year.

Minister of Civil Affairs of the Palestinian Authority Hussein Al-Sheikh responded by saying that the authority over Al-Aqsa Mosque should remain in the hands of the Muslim religious trust, the Waqf.

"The historic status quo of Al-Aqsa Mosque gives the Waqf the responsibility to run the site and manage visitations," Al-Sheikh said. He added that turning the authority over to the police and limiting the number of visitors to the site is a violation of the status quo. Until the second intifada broke out in September 2000, the Waqf orchestrated all visits to the Temple Mount, including visits of Jewish worshipers.

The Temple Mount is expected to be closed to Jews on Friday, as is done every year during the last 10 days of Ramadan. Right-wing politicians criticized the decision to close the Temple Mount for Jewish visitors, even though this was also done in the past by the previous Netanyahu government. In practice, the Temple Mount was closed to Jews for 19 days due to the escalation with militant groups in the Gaza Strip.

An Israeli border police officer tries to disperse a group of Palestinians in Jerusalem's Old City on Sunday.Credit: Mahmoud Illean /AP

Israeli police expect the clashes in the Old City to intensify in the coming days, and are also concerned about their spreading to other cities in Israel – particularly Arab towns and towns with mixed Arab and Jewish populations. This follows posts on Palestinian social media alleging that Israel is “attempting to take control of the Al-Aqsa Mosque.” The police have alleged that this is a campaign organized by members of Hamas and officials associated with the Waqf.

Last year, Jerusalem Day fell toward the end of the month of Ramadan and the accompanying Flag March that was held to celebrate the occasion was stopped in the middle after Hamas fired rockets at Jerusalem from the Gaza Strip. The police fear that this year’s march in areas of tension in East Jerusalem will instigate another wave of Palestinian violence.

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