Far-right march allowed to pass through Muslim quarter

Far-right Israeli protesters wave national flags as they march toward Tzahal Square, on 20 April 2022 (AFP)

MEE Staff

Middle East Eye  /  May 20, 2022

Israel has approved its annual far-right Flag March to pass through Jerusalem’s Damascus Gate and the Old City’s Muslim quarter, drawing condemnation from the Palestinian Authority and activists.

On Tuesday, Israel’s Public Security Minister Mer Bar-Lev, along with Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai, reached an agreement with right-wing march organisers to allow the event, the Israeli website Haaretz reported.

The Palestinian foreign ministry in a statement condemned Bar-Lev’s decision to approve the event, calling it “provocative, aggressive, and an integral part of the open occupation war against Jerusalem, its citizens, and its sanctities”, Palestinian news agency Wafa reported on Thursday.

The statement also called on the United States to “stop the policy of double standards and translate its words into actions to protect Jerusalem and its citizens”.

The ‘Flag March‘ is usually held on Jerusalem Day, which marks Israel’s capture and subsequent occupation of East Jerusalem in the 1967 Middle East war.

The march typically brings together thousands of young, far-right Israelis, who chant anti-Palestinian slogans and wave Israeli flags as they pass through the small streets of East Jerusalem’s Old City.

Last year’s parade took place amid heightened tensions in the city and saw Hamas rockets flying towards Jerusalem, paving the way for Israel to launch a devastating military attack on the Gaza Strip, codenamed Guardian of the Walls. 

The May 2021 assault left 256 Palestinians dead and thousands injured, as well as damaging over 50,000 homes and destroying key infrastructure.

A conflict monitor warned that further actions from Israel would be required in light of its approval of the march.

“At a time when Palestinians are being killed and injured daily by Israel, harassed and brutalized as they mourn, barred from flying their flag, the government approves an ultra-nationalist incendiary march that will require further restriction of their movement,” tweeted Mairav Zonszein, a senior analyst at the non-profit International Crisis Group.

In April, Israeli police blocked a route towards Damascus Gate in occupied East Jerusalem as hundreds of far-right activists defied police orders and began an unauthorized march toward the Old City’s Muslim Quarter.

The sticky issue with the Flag March is its heavy symbolism for religious Zionism and the right which “denies decision-makers the chance to make considered decisions”, according to a Haaretz editorial piece.

“The discourse surrounding Jerusalem is so sensitive and toxic that anything which limits the actions of Jews or enables a bit more freedom for Palestinians for the sake of maintaining security is immediately interpreted as a surrender, loss of sovereignty, and the approaching end to Zionism,” it said.

Gantz warns of an ‘Arab [Palestinian] takeover’

Israeli Defence Minister Benny Gantz has warned that Israel could be “swallowed by Arab foes” in the future, making his point by sharing a WhatsApp message which threatens an Arab takeover.

In the closed portion of a Blue and White Party faction meeting last week, Gantz read out a WhatsApp message that had gone viral across the country, which contained threats by anonymous, apparently Arab elements, to take control of the country, Israeli media reported on Monday.

The WhatsApp message purportedly reads: “keep cursing; you have no chance against Allah. Slowly but surely we are taking bites out of your state. What will you do? This is Palestinian territory in actuality,” Israel Hayom newspaper reported.

The message “isn’t far from the reality”, Gantz claimed at the meeting, according to the newspaper.

“I believe that in a few more years we’ll be in a situation where the Jewish state will be between Gedera and Hadera. We are a few years away from this.”

These two cities lie in the coastal plain region where the bulk of Israel’s Jewish population lives.

In February, Gantz said that Palestinians would have an “entity” in the future but not a full-fledged “state”.

“Eventually we will find ourselves in a two-entity solution, in which we respect Palestinian sovereignty and governance, but we will be respected for our security needs,” Gantz said at a conference in Munich, according to the Jerusalem Post.

Jerusalem police chief gave orders while abroad

Jerusalem’s police chief has been criticized by his own colleagues for remotely giving orders to officers overseeing the funeral of Al-Jazeera journalist, Shireen Abu Akleh, Haaretz reported.

Last Friday, while in Germany taking part in a police delegation, Jerusalem District Commander Doron Turgeman gave the order to officers to prevent the waving of Palestinian flags, and to confiscate any Palestinian flags they saw during the funeral of Abu Akleh, police sources told Haaretz.

Police sources said Turgeman gave his order regarding the Palestinian flags during a meeting the day before the funeral, which he attended remotely.

Danny Levy, Turgeman’s deputy, was in charge of the police forces at the funeral in the Old City.

 “You can’t give orders from afar when you aren’t there on the ground,” one police source told Haaretz.

“If there are one or two flags that could lead to an escalation on the ground, fine. But you can’t fight dozens, if not hundreds, of flags at such a sensitive event, when any friction could lead to a more violent confrontation.”

A renowned journalist, Abu Akhleh was shot dead on 11 May by Israeli forces while covering a raid in the occupied West Bank city of Jenin. Israel denies responsibility for her death.

On Friday, thousands of Muslim and Christian Palestinians from Jerusalem and the Palestinian community in Israel, including Haifa and Nazareth, came to pay their respects to the veteran journalist at the Old City church.

However during the funeral procession, police attacked mourners, in part over the fact that they carried Palestinian flags, Haaretz said.

Police also removed all the Palestinian flags hung along the route of the procession, whether on the streets or in car windows, as well as from participants’ hands. Some of the flags were confiscated, and they used force to prevent the funeral attendees from waving them.

Police also searched for Palestinian flags as participants left the church where the funeral service was held, the newspaper said, adding that East Jerusalem residents who were standing a few meters away started warning participants who carried flags to put them away lest they be arrested.

The police issued a statement saying that enforcement at the funeral “was carried out in accordance with the law,” and that action was taken “against suspects who waved PLO flags while making calls for incitement and riots”.

The police at the time also claimed that all of the commands were given by commanders who were at the scene, Haaretz said.