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Israel on high alert ahead of Sunday’s Jerusalem march

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett took a final decision that the flag march in Jerusalem’s Old City will take place as decided beforehand, with police at maximum alert across the country.
Israeli protesters wave national flags as they march toward Tzahal Square during the Flag March organized by nationalist parties, Jerusalem, April 20, 2022.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett decided today that the traditional nationalist flag march marking the 1967 reunification of Jerusalem will take place on Sunday according to the route decided upon earlier this week. Bennett made his decision following consultations this morning with Public Security Minister Omer Bar Lev and Israel Police Commissioner Yaakov Shabtai.

Bar Lev and Shabtai briefed Bennett on the security preparations ahead of the controversial march, which had instigated in past years clashes in Jerusalem between Israeli security forces and local Palestinians; clashes between Israeli security forces and Jewish far-right militants; and also clashes in other mixed Jewish-Arab cities. Last year, Hamas fired rockets at Israel shortly after the procession started, instigating an 11-day war in the Gaza Strip.

The Jerusalem Day procession traditionally passes through the narrow streets of the Muslim Quarter in the Old City of Jerusalem, in what Palestinians perceive as provocation. Over the years, legal efforts to ban the march failed. Israel’s right-wing camp, including Bennett himself, have always argued that it was a legitimate celebration marking an extraordinary moment in Jewish and Israeli history.

Thus, according to Bennett’s decision today, the march is set to pass through Damascus Gate and the Muslim Quarter in the Old City, ending at the Western Wall Plaza, stopping before reaching the Temple Mount compound.

Reports May 26 said that the Biden administration has been pushing Israel to reroute the controversial procession away from Damascus Gate and the Muslim Quarter, a request Jerusalem declined. A US State Department spokesman noted, “The US has repeatedly expressed its concern regarding the recent violence in Jerusalem and across Israel and the West Bank. We continue to call on all sides to do their utmost to exercise restraint and avoid provocative actions and rhetoric.”

In an attempt to contain tensions and avoid violence, it was decided that only senior police officers will be authorized to order the confiscation of either Israeli or Palestinian flags. Border Police Commander Eli Gozlan said that police forces will be deployed in three formations: one responsible for traffic, one responsible for security threats and one responsible for orderly behavior. The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) have also called in reservists to enhance presence on the ground.

“Our greatest concern for the moment is incitement on social media, championed by the terror group Hamas. They are spreading fake news. For more than 30 years, the march took place along the same route exactly, and we have no intention of changing it. Of course, there is absolutely no intention of entering into the Temple Mount compound. All the lies disseminated [over such an alleged possibility] are dangerous and harmful for the democracy. They incite to violence and to riots,” Gozlan said.

Reports earlier this week said Israel had sent messages to Hamas via Egypt and Qatar in hopes of thwarting an outbreak of violence following the flag march. According to Israel’s Channel 13, the IDF believes the procession can pass peacefully so long as there are no bouts of serious violence. Security experts had noted that Hamas had warned against Jewish entry or presence on the Temple Mount, but did not refer specifically to the flag march. The experts said this could mean that Hamas is not really interested in igniting a violent conflict May 29.

That being said, Israeli security agencies prepare for different scenarios, including rocket fire from the Gaza Strip, terror attacks in Israel, clashes in Jewish-Arab mixed cities and riots during the flag march itself. In addition, the police will deploy dozens of communication teams that will film the march and react in real time to any fake news.

Police heads are also determined to thwart any repetition of what happened at the funeral of Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, where police officers were filmed hitting the bearers of the casket, almost causing it to fall. These scenes generated great criticism against the Jerusalem police. The incident is now being investigated, but police is determined to avoid any provocations that could lead to similar confrontations.

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