Thousands of Israelis are expected today in Jerusalem for the annual Jerusalem Day Flag March, with thousands of police officers set up to secure the contentious event, along with Jewish visits to the Temple Mount, amid concerns of violence both in the Old City and from the Gaza Strip.
The defense establishment is also preparing for the possibility of rocket fire from Gaza during the Flag March. On Tuesday, Hamas’s al-Qassam Brigades published a social media post featuring al-Aqsa Mosque with rockets flying in the background and the text “the Sword of Jerusalem [the name used by Palestinian factions for Operation Guardian of the Walls] will not be sheathed.”
On Wednesday, the Sons of Al-Zawari balloon unit announced that it was planning to launch incendiary balloons and stage riots along the Gaza border. Additionally, a “Palestinian flag event” is set to be held along the border, east of Gaza City.
Salah al-Bardawil, a member of Hamas’s political bureau, warned on Wednesday that “the march of the Zionist flags will not pass, and the response will inevitably come,” according to Arabic-language media.
A Palestinian Authority official in Ramallah warned Israel against “playing with fire” by allowing the flag march to take place in the Muslim Quarter. The official said that calls by some Jewish groups to “storm” al-Aqsa Mosque compound during Jerusalem Day celebrations could lead to a “big explosion.”
During a press briefing on Tuesday, US State Department deputy spokesperson Vedant Patel stated that America continues “to urge the parties to refrain from actions and rhetoric and activities that would inflame tensions.
“Of course we believe in the right of individuals to express themselves and to do so peacefully,” he said. “And what I will reiterate is that we are urging all parties to maintain calm, to exercise restraint, and to refrain from actions and rhetoric and activities that would escalate tensions.”
Thousands of police officers to secure Jerusalem Day revelries
While Jerusalem Day technically begins on Thursday night and continues into Friday, the festivities were moved forward a day to avoid leading into Shabbat. Between 3,200 and 3,500 Israel Police officers and volunteers will operate throughout the city to secure the revelries and direct traffic, with 2,500 allocated to the Flag March alone. As of Tuesday, fifteen suspects had been arrested and 37 others were issued restraining orders ahead of Jerusalem Day. Police stressed that the march will not enter the Temple Mount or any of its gates.
Police called on marchers and the rest of the public to obey police instructions and to avoid any manifestation of physical or verbal violence. “Disturbances and manifestations of violence of any kind will be dealt with decisively by the police forces,” stressed Chief Superintendent Yoram Segal from the Jerusalem District Police.
Segal also dismissed concerns of widespread violence, saying that last year Jewish violence during the Flag March was very light and mostly limited to a group of minors who were quickly dealt with.
He added that police would act firmly against those who disturb public order from either the Jewish or Palestinian “side of the equation.” Police would be using video cameras and other hi-tech surveillance to monitor any disturbances and to quickly alter deployment to concentrate swiftly in any areas which start to get out of hand.
The march will be conducted on its traditional route, departing from the center of the city along King George and Agron streets before splitting into two, with men continuing through Damascus Gate and the Muslim Quarter and women continuing through Jaffa Gate before meeting up again at the Western Wall.
Ben-Gvir: Police will ensure complete freedom of movement for Jews
During a situational assessment with police, National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir stressed that “this is a holiday; the policy is to allow complete freedom of movement for Jews throughout Jerusalem. All the threats of terrorism, all the threats of bullying, all the threats of provocations of one kind or another need to be stemmed. Unequivocally, the Flag March, a holiday march, is the ascension of Jews to the Temple Mount, without anyone thinking that it is possible to threaten them or harm them – and above all, it is a message to the whole world.”
The closing rally will take place at the Western Wall starting at 7 p.m. On Friday morning, festive prayers will be held there as well.
A number of central events are set to take place on Thursday and Friday, including the Flag March, a “White Night” music festival for students, the Sunroot electronic music festival, state ceremonies at Mount Herzl and Ammunition Hill for Jerusalem Day and the Memorial Day for Ethiopian Jews who perished on their way to Israel, plus tours, ceremonies and a festival marking the anniversary of the death of the prophet Samuel.
During the march itself, anti-judicial reform groups will hold a protest march near the President’s Residence in Jerusalem, starting at 5:30 p.m.
From 2-7 p.m. on Thursday, the following streets and the roads leading to them will be closed to vehicles: Ben Zvi, Bezalel, King George, Keren Hayesod, Agron, Yitzhak Kariv, King Solomon, Menashe Ben Israel, Khativat Yerushalayim, Ha-Ttzanhanim, Kheil ha-Handasa, the IDF tunnel, Haim Bar Lev southward and Sultan Suleiman in both directions.
During the march, the light rail will not operate at the stations near IDF Square and public transport in the area will take alternative routes.
Thousands expected to visit Temple Mount on Jerusalem Day
Thousands of Jewish visitors are set to visit the Temple Mount on Thursday, with a number of Temple Mount organizations planning large visits to the site. The site will be open to Jewish visitors from 7:00-11:30 a.m. and from 1:30-2:30 p.m.
At 12 p.m., the Beyadenu movement will hold a flag march from the Jaffa Gate to the gates of the Temple Mount before conducting a visit to the complex itself at 1:30 p.m. The Return to the Mount (Chozrim Lahar) movement announced that it would march on the Temple Mount itself while singing, dancing and carrying Israeli flags, despite police bans.
Jewish visitors to the Temple Mount are prohibited by police from carrying or displaying Israeli flags or religious items and are banned from conducting open prayer. Last year, a number of visitors managed to display Israeli flags on the Mount and many of the visitors sang religious songs and prayed loudly and openly, despite orders by police to desist.
The IDF is reportedly planning on filing a restraining order banning Tom Nisani, founder of Beyadenu, from entering Jerusalem for the next month due to concerns that he could “endanger national and public security,” including “provocative activity” at the Temple Mount.
Several MKs and ministers are expected to take part in the Flag March, including Ben-Gvir and Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich. It is unclear whether Ben-Gvir will visit the Temple Mount on Jerusalem Day.
Palestinians call for mobilization on Temple Mount, Old City
Palestinians have expressed outrage at the Flag March and plan large-scale visits to the Temple Mount, with Hamas-affiliated media outlets calling on Palestinians to arrive en masse on Wednesday and Thursday to confront Jewish visitors.
Last year, violent clashes broke out on the Temple Mount on Jerusalem Day, with Palestinians throwing chairs and launching fireworks at police from inside the mosque while police locked the doors of the mosque from the outside. Later that day, far-right activists clashed with residents of the Muslim Quarter of the Old City.
Yonah Jeremy Bob and Khaled Abu Toameh contributed to this report.