A massive security operation is in place in Jerusalem for Thursday’s march of the flags when tens of thousands of Jews march through the Old City to the Western Wall to celebrate Jerusalem Day, Israel’s capture of east Jerusalem from Jordan in the 1967 Six-Day War.
Palestinians view the event as a provocation as the nationalistic Israelis, including many West Bank settlers, will enter the Old City via the Damascus gate and march through the narrow alleyways of the Muslim quarter. Last year there were dozens of incidents surrounding the march, including clashes between participants and Palestinian residents of the Muslim quarter and racist chants of “death to the Arabs” by dozens of marchers.
A number of Israeli ministers and parliamentarians from far-right coalition parties and prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s Likud will be participating in this year’s event, including controversial national security minister Itamar Ben-Gvir, leader of the Otzma Yehudit (Jewish Strength) party and Bezalel Smotrich, the finance minister who is leader of the Religious Zionist party.
On Wednesday, after a meeting with top police officials ahead of the march, Mr Ben-Gvir said that Jerusalem is Israel’s eternal capital. “My policy is to allow the complete freedom of movement for Jews in Jerusalem,” he stressed.
“We’re in a zero-tolerance policy toward violence and vandalism on any side,” said Doron Turgeman, the commander of the Jerusalem police district. “The preparations are professional and meticulous and are intended to enable the Jerusalem Day events to proceed.”
This year’s march comes soon after five days of fierce exchanges of fire between Israel and Islamic Jihad militants in Gaza, raising regional tension.
More than 3,000 police are being deployed in and around the Old City. Hundreds of Jews in the morning are planning to visit the Temple Mount, the holiest site in Judaism which is also revered by Muslims as the Haram al-Sharif noble sanctuary, the site of the Al Aqsa mosque. Palestinian social media is full of calls to come early to “protect the mosque”.
A Palestinian Authority official in Ramallah warned Israel against “playing with fire” by allowing the flag march to take place in the Muslim quarter, warning that any attempt by Jewish extremists to “storm” the Temple Mount could lead to a “big explosion”.
Hamas official Ali Barakeh called on Palestinians to mobilise to foil the march. “The Zionist insistence on holding the flag march in occupied Jerusalem is a provocation against the Palestinian people and all Arabs and Muslims,” he said. Senior Hamas representative Osama Hamdan warned of the possibility of renewed violence.
US state department deputy spokesman Vedant Patel called on both sides to “refrain from actions and rhetoric and activities that would inflame tensions”.