Traditional temple

Police to allow far-right MK Ben Gvir to visit Temple Mount ahead of controversial flag march

Police are expected to allow far-right MK Itamar Ben Gvir to visit the Temple Mount on Sunday amid rising tensions over the controversial Jerusalem Day Flag March, which is expected to pass through the Old City’s Muslim Quarter later in the day.

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

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

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

Earlier this week, Ben Gvir informed the Knesset, per protocol, that he planned to visit the Temple Mount on Sunday.

The Old City walls are the holiest place 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 permitted 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 Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of East Jerusalem last spring, have helped to escalate tensions and fighting.

The planned visit is expected to take place hours before the controversial Jerusalem Day Flag march – Palestinian terror groups and Iran-backed Hezbollah in Lebanon have issued threats of violence if the parade goes ahead.

But Israeli leaders vowed on Friday that they would not be intimidated by threats of violence from terror groups and that the parade will proceed as scheduled in the Old City’s Muslim Quarter as in the past.

However, unlike Ben Gvir’s potential visit to the Temple Mount, police warned Arab lawmakers against “provocations”, Channel 13 reported.

The report said police believe Arab lawmakers could come to the Old City’s Damascus Gate ahead of the parade, so 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 this were to happen, “we will not hesitate to force them out if necessary.”

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

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

The route of the parade is strewn with pitfalls, with opponents seeing its march 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 the Arabs” as well as “Shuafat is on fire”, referring to the East Jerusalem neighborhood, and “Jerusalem is ours”.

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

Ahead of Sunday, Border Patrol called up three units – a total of 200 reservists – who underwent 24 hours of refresher training, including crowd dispersal methods and mental preparation for the event, a source said. spokesperson.

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

The police have already announced that they will be on high alert and will mobilize more than 3,000 officers in Jerusalem.

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

Gantz said he believed there would be no repeat of Hamas’ barrage of rockets 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 in reference to the Israeli response that inflicted massive damage on the groups. terrorists and the Gaza Strip.

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

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett also said on Friday that the road would pass through the Muslim quarter as planned. Apparently seeking to defuse terror groups’ calls for Palestinians to defend the Al-Aqsa Mosque atop the Temple Mount from nationalist marchers, Bennett noted that the parade did not go to the Temple Mount.

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

Separately, on Friday, police said that in an effort to avoid clashes, only senior police officers will have the power to order the removal of Palestinian flags during the march if they pose a risk or constitute a provocation. .

The Israeli police force has come under scrutiny and worldwide criticism over the violent behavior of officers at the May 13 funeral of slain Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh.

Officers rushed his funeral procession, nearly causing the coffin to fall, in part in an attempt to pull down Palestinian flags in what Israel sees as a challenge to its authority in the capital.

Before Sunday, Israel faced pressure from the international community, including the United States, to change the route of the march. Left-wing members of the coalition have also called for change.

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

The UN envoy to the Middle East, Tor Wennesland, on Saturday called on “all parties to exercise maximum restraint and to take judicious decisions to avoid another violent conflict which will only cause more victims”. Wennesland said he had been in contact with all “affected parties” ahead of Sunday’s march.

Police blocked nationalists who intended to stage a similar march in the Old City last month, but gave the green light for the Jerusalem Day parade to follow its traditional route, reigniting anger Palestinians and once again beating the drums of war.

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

Nevertheless, the Hamas and Islamic Jihad terror groups are preparing rocket launchers and putting their armed wings on high alert ahead of Jerusalem Day, Israeli and Palestinian media reported Thursday. Meanwhile, the Palestinian daily Al-Quds said groups in Gaza did not want to be drawn into a conflict at this time, as it would disrupt work to rehabilitate Gaza after last year’s fighting with Israel.