Israeli police have approved a flag parade, or march, organised by radical Jewish groups to celebrate the occupation of Jerusalem in June 1967 on what these groups call “Jerusalem Unification Day.”
Israel has controlled the holy city since 1967 and is continuing measures for its Judification.
A similar march last year reached Bab Al-Amoud in Occupied Jerusalem and resulted in major confrontations on the ground in the Palestinian Territories and Israel. The Al-Qassam Brigades, the military wing of the Palestinian group Hamas, fired rockets towards Jerusalem at the time of the parade that succeeded in breaking up the march but also extensive conflict in the Gaza Strip killing and injuring hundreds of Palestinians.
It left behind large-scale damage including demolished residential buildings, homes, and infrastructure in several neighbourhoods of Gaza. It coincided with unprecedented confrontations in Arab cities inside Israel, which the Israeli police brutally crushed.
This year’s march is planned to pass through the Bab Al-Amoud area towards the Al-Buraq (Wailing) Wall close to the Al-Aqsa Mosque and then the Muslim quarter of Jerusalem. It will be a provocation for Palestinians, who have already been engaged in fierce confrontations with the Israeli police during Ramadan when the Israeli occupying forces protected hundreds of Israeli settlers who stormed the mosque’s courtyard to hold Talmudic prayers and perform other religious rituals.
The Palestinian Authority (PA) and Palestinian factions view Israel’s moves, intended to establish what Israel claims is the right of Jews to perform religious rituals in the courtyard of the Al-Aqsa Mosque, as a prelude to the division of the mosque. Israel wants the mosque to receive Muslims at specific times and at other times to be reserved for Jews.
During the parade, thousands of nationalist Jews flock to the holy city and march through the streets, raising Israeli flags and chanting through loudspeakers, as they dance and sing nationalist songs and anthems. Palestinians see the event as a provocation and a trigger for further clashes.
The Israelis began commemorating the day in 1974 but stopped between 2010 and 2016 due to the resulting clashes between Palestinians and Israelis. Today, the Israeli police oblige Palestinian shop and business owners in the area to close down, disrupt their businesses, and prevent them from gathering in order to facilitate the passage of this march through Jerusalem.
Knesset member Itamar Ben Gvir of the far-right Religious Zionist Coalition and Bezalel Smotrich, leader of the coalition, are leading the pressure on the Israeli government to ensure that the march is held and passes through the Muslim neighbourhoods of Jerusalem, on the basis that the entire city belongs to Jews.
The pressure has forced Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and key members of his fragile government, a coalition with left-wing parties and an Arab party, to agree to the demands of right-wing extremists. It has led to the head of the Israeli police force breaking his silence and accusing Ben Gvir of being responsible for unrest between Jews and Arabs inside Israel.
Criticism of the demands by right-wing extremists has also come from within the Israeli government during weekly cabinet meetings, where quarrels about the route of the march have erupted. The left-wing Meretz Party views it as both foolish and provocative.
Lehava, a Jewish supremacist organisation, has published a picture on social media of a bulldozer demolishing the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem dated 28 May. They described it as “the day to begin demolishing the Dome of the Rock,” which radical Jews believe will mark the start of rebuilding Solomon’s Temple on its ruins.
The PA has issued warnings that the march and other provocations by the radical right in Israel could be the prelude to possible war in the region. It has asked Washington to intervene to save the two-state solution in Palestine, based on East Jerusalem becoming the capital of a Palestinian state.
Armed Palestinian factions in Gaza reject what they describe as the “rules of engagement” with Israel, asserting that Israeli assaults on Occupied Jerusalem will be met with a military response from Gaza.
These factions, which include Hamas and Islamic Jihad, hope to use their military power in the Gaza Strip to change the balance of power in Occupied Jerusalem. They hope to prevent any repetition of the Israeli abuses, in the hope that this will increase their popularity at the expense of Fatah, the main Palestinian group which is a foe of both factions.
Many Palestinians in Gaza believe that the economically dilapidated Strip, impoverished by successive wars mounted by Israel and the Israeli siege since Hamas came to power there in 2007, should not be the only area at the forefront of confrontations with Israel.
However, the absence of effective popular resistance in the West Bank, due to reasons including Palestinian infighting and a lack of interest in the Palestinian cause due to other issues, has put the armed Palestinian factions in Gaza on the spot to either prove the seriousness of their threats or to turn a blind eye to Israel’s plans for the holy city.
Israel views interventions by hostile pro-Iranian parties in Lebanon, such as Hizbullah, or Syria, or even the Houthis in Yemen, as possibilities it must prepare for. All these outside parties are themselves experiencing domestic troubles, so exporting the crisis to Israel could relieve pressure from their opponents at home.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 26 May, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.