It’s been a quite a while since MK Itamar Ben-Gvir set the ground on fire. But he’s apparently nostalgic over last May’s Hamas-Israel war, when missiles were flying in all directions and riots erupted in Jewish-Arab cities throughout the country. Sunday morning he once again went to East Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood to open an “office,” just like he did back then.
Dozens of police officers accompanied him to this “office” to separate the settlers and Palestinians who were clashing, at times spraying each other with pepper spray and throwing chairs. In fact, the statement Ben-Gvir released Saturday night about his intent to open the office was enough to ignite clashes between Jews and Palestinians – during which two Jews were wounded, one moderately and one lightly, due to a car-ramming and stone-throwing – and lead to arrests.
Nor did Hamas disappoint Ben-Gvir. While moderates on both sides are having trouble finding a partner to make peace, the extremists can always find an attentive ear on the other side and the right partner for war. Hamas’ spokesman in Jerusalem, Mohammed Hamada, warned that Ben-Gvir was “playing with fire that could ignite the territory.” He also warned Israel against any further activity in Sheikh Jarrah and urged all Palestinians to mobilize for the battle over the neighborhood.
The last time Ben-Gvir set up an improvised office in East Jerusalem was a few days before the Hamas-Israel fighting began last May. That office was opened following clashes in Sheikh Jarrah over Israeli plans to evict Palestinians from their homes. And after it opened, more clashes erupted. Only following a personal request from then-Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did Ben-Gvir close the office.
This time, Ben-Gvir’s pretext for opening the office was a fire that broke out in a Jewish family’s apartment, which he termed the latest in a series of attacks against the family. His presence, he said, was meant to prompt an increased presence by the police, whom he accused of showing weakness. He also aimed his arrows at Public Security Minister Omer Bar Lev, whom he accused of abandoning the neighborhood’s Jewish residents.
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This is a costly provocation whose price could include human lives. Consequently, the first thing Bar-Lev has to do to take care of Sheikh Jarrah’s residents, and indeed of all Israelis, is to get Ben-Gvir’s outpost dismantled. The MK’s presence in the neighborhood, whose sole purpose is to provoke, and the provocative, nationalist, aggressive, racist way he is “demonstrating our sovereignty” may well ignite a regional conflagration and endanger human lives.
This task is incumbent not only on Bar-Lev, but also on Prime Minister Naftali Bennett. This government, which is afraid of its own shadow, loves to cite Netanyahu to justify its actions. Well, Netanyahu also ordered Ben-Gvir to dismantle his office back in the day. If this government doesn’t do so, the disaster that Ben-Gvir may well bring down on Israel will be registered under its name.
The above article is Haaretz's lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.