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Israeli police block right-wing activists from Jerusalem’s Damascus Gate

Jerusalem police halted some 20 right-wing activists who tried approaching the flashpoint Damascus Gate despite interdiction by law-enforcement agencies.
Ben Gvir

Far-right Knesset member Itamar Ben Gvir of the Jewish Power faction abandoned the flag march which took place this afternoon outside the Jerusalem Old City walls.

Israeli police had told the organizers of the march yesterday that they would not allow participants to reach the flashpoint Damascus Gate. At the beginning, the organizers offered an alternative route, but then backtracked and said they would march to the Damascus Gate even without police permission.

The organizers tried copying the nationalist flag march that traditionally takes place on Jerusalem Day (which marks the city’s unification in 1967), to be celebrated on May 29 this year.

Out of the 200 people who marched this afternoon from the Safra Jerusalem Municipality Square, about 20 activists managed to approach the volatile spot, including Ben Gvir. On arrival, police blocked them from entering the gate, and chased some of them who refused to obey orders to walk away. After a heated exchange with the police, Ben Gvir decided to abandon the march.

Following recommendations by Public Security Minister Omer Bar-Lev, the Shin Bet and Jerusalem Police, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett decided yesterday to prevent Ben Gvir from marching near the Damascus Gate. "I have no intention to allow petty politics to endanger human lives. I won't allow Ben-Gvir's political provocation to endanger IDF soldiers and Israel Police officers. The annual flag march will take place on its regular date, Jerusalem Day," said Bennett, adding that soldiers and police officers must "continue to focus on protecting the citizens of Israel and determinedly flighting Palestinian terror."

Bar Lev said, "The arrival of Knesset member Ben-Gvir at the Damascus Gate at this time … is a provocation that will be a catalyst for security deterioration, to the point of endangering the entire region. Just his arriving there endangers the security of the country, and even causes the police — which is stretched to the limit to continue to maintain order and security — to divert its efforts to unnecessary tasks at this time."

Ben Gvir said yesterday, "I don't take orders 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."

Clashes broke out on the Temple Mount this morning for the fifth day in a week, with Palestinian rioters throwing stones and Molotov cocktails at police officers who were securing the site for Jewish visitors. More than 1,500 Israeli Jews visited the site today, and a total of 3,813 visited during the Passover holiday this week. Unrest started at the compound last Friday when Palestinians threw stones down at the Western Wall Plaza, and barricaded themselves in a building on the compound. Police detained hundreds. Dozens were injured in the clashes that erupted.  

Yesterday, thousands of rightwing activists marched to the West Bank settlement Homesh, abandoned by Israel in the framework of the 2005 unilateral withdrawal from the Gaza Strip. At the time, Israel withdrew not just from Gaza but also from four small settlements in the north of the Samaria region. Over the years, settlers have tried reclaiming Homesh and establishing a makeshift yeshiva, despite legal interdiction. Last December, a Palestinian assailant killed Yehuda Dimentan just outside of Homesh.

Head of the rightwing Religious Zionist party Bezalel Smotrich said yesterday at the march, "We came to commit to settling all areas of the Land of Israel."

Dozens of Palestinians were injured in clashes with IDF near the roads leading to Homesh. The IDF had said on Monday it did not have the manpower to secure the march, but at the end, did secure it. Palestinian rioters arrived to the locations where the army blocked the roads to let the march pass by, and threw stones and burning tires toward the Israeli forces.