In his op-ed in Haaretz (“We won’t cave in,” 3 June), Public Security Minister Omer Bar-Lev claims that he took the right decision when allowing the Flag March to be held in its “traditional format” and not giving in to Hamas’ threat. In fact, instead of learning from the mistakes by the previous government, he took a calculated risk which easily could have escalated into a new war as happened last year.
That the march was held in its traditional format and along the same route via Damascus Gate and into the Muslim Quarter is hardly a valid argument. Last year, the cancellation in the last minute by the government did not prevent it from continuing and giving Hamas a pretext to launch missiles against Jerusalem, which ignited an 11-day long war in the vicious circle of hostilities between Israel and Hamas.
The government’s goal when allowing the Flag March this year may not have been to express Jewish supremacy over Jerusalem but surely those who participated in the march were bent on doing it. A majority of those who participated in the march came to demonstrate that they are the “lords of the land”. As Public Security Minister, Bar-Lev takes pride in not caving in to Hamas but he did cave in to the rightist opposition and the extremists in his own coalition government without receiving anything in return.
Contrary to what he writes, he did have alternative choices. The choice on Jerusalem Day was not between a two-state solution and annexation of the occupied territories. The concrete choice was between de-escalating the situation on the ground or go ahead with the march in its “traditional format”, thereby risking the outbreak of a new war.
If he did not want to cancel the march altogether, he could have limited it and changed its route to avoid flash points with the Palestinian inhabitants in Jerusalem. He could have limited access of Jews, in particular extremists, to the Temple Mountain. Instead, a record number of people were allowed to enter the Temple Mountain, waving Israeli flags and conducting prayers, which disrupted the status-quo.
Importantly, he could have ensured that the huge number of deployed police would have been instructed to apply an even-handed approach and intervene against both Jews and Palestinians alike who disturbed the public order. This did not happen as the reporting in Times of Israel and other media shows.
Jews were allowed to shout racist slogans in the presence of police officers which made those Jewish marchers who had come to celebrate the liberation of Jerusalem peacefully without incitement against the Palestinians feel deeply ashamed. Contrary to what the police commissioner had promised Bar-Lev, the police lost control of the march and did not manage to prevent the clashes between marchers and bystanders.
The overwhelming majority of the more than 60 persons that were arrested were Palestinians. In particular, the attitude of the police to Palestinian journalists was appalling. One journalist was denied access to the Temple Mountain and another one was attacked by Jewish rioters while allegedly Border Police officers were standing nearby without intervening.
Omer Bar-Lev can thank his lucky stars that the Flag March did not erupt in a new war. In the passing, he also managed to damage Israel’s image abroad.