Israeli Public Security Minister Omer Barlev recently announced that the Jerusalem Day Flag March, an event celebrated annually by right-wing secular and religious nationalists marking Israel’s conquest of East Jerusalem during the Six Day War, will take place as usual on May 29.
In accordance with Barlev’s plan, the marchers will enter the Muslim Quarter through the Damascus Gate and proceed to the Western Wall.
Last year, following clashes on the Temple Mount between Palestinians and police, the evictions of Palestinian families from the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood and dire warnings from Hamas, Israeli police altered the route of the march at the last moment.
Marchers were diverted away from the Damascus Gate and channelled toward the less contentious Jaffa Gate, which is close to the Jewish Quarter. Nevertheless, Hamas responded to the march by firing rockets toward Jerusalem as Flag Day unfolded.
Israel retaliated, triggering an 11-day war with Hamas, the fourth cross-border Gaza armed conflict in 13 years.
One year on, Israel appears to face a similar problem, judging by an incendiary speech delivered by Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh in the Gaza Strip on May 22.
Bluntly reminding Israel that the 2021 march was “torn apart” by Hamas rockets last May, he warned the Israeli government that the Palestinian “resistance” would not permit “this Jewish, Talmudic rubbish to go unanswered.”
“We will resist with all our capabilities and will not permit … thuggery in the streets of Jerusalem,” he added in lurid fashion.
Haniyeh’s grossly antisemitic language needs to be condemned on every conceivable level, but it is not unexpected. Lest it be forgotten, Hamas’ noxious national charter categorically rejects Israel’s existence and is rife with anti-Jewish tropes and references.
Yet Israel would be remiss to ignore Haniyeh’s warning.
It goes without saying that Israel is free to do what it wishes in its capital, but in light of the sensitivities surrounding Flag Day, Barlev would be wise to revise his plan before it is formally considered by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and his cabinet in the next few days.
In short, the march should be re-routed through the Jaffa Gate, where it is less likely to arouse the Palestinians and cause a needless provocation.
Tensions are already high.
In the past two months, 17 Israelis and two foreign workers have been killed in Arab terrorist attacks inside Israel carried out by Israeli Arabs and Palestinian Arabs from the West Bank. This is the bloodiest toll in five years.
Israeli retaliatory raids in the West Bank, particularly in the Jenin area, have claimed the lives of 30 Palestinians, including that of Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, who was killed in what seems to have been an exchange of crossfire between Israeli troops and Palestinian gunmen.
Given the recent fatalities and the Temple Mount troubles, Israel should exercise caution with respect to the forthcoming Flag Day parade.
Let the Jewish marchers mark Israel’s Six Day War victory, but not at the risk of causing a new and avoidable outbreak of violence, which would benefit neither Israelis nor Palestinians.
The Israeli cabinet should take these factors into account before it approves Barlev’s plan.