Jerusalem Day lessons: Israelis shouldn't be afraid of terrorists' threats - analysis

Hamas, with all its bluster, knew that if it were to fire rockets at Jerusalem because of the flag march, Israel would hit back hard.

 Israeli security personnel stand by as Israelis shout slogans and gather at Damascus gate to Jerusalem's Old city marking Jerusalem Day, in Jerusalem May 18, 2023 (photo credit: AMMAR AWAD/REUTERS)
Israeli security personnel stand by as Israelis shout slogans and gather at Damascus gate to Jerusalem's Old city marking Jerusalem Day, in Jerusalem May 18, 2023
(photo credit: AMMAR AWAD/REUTERS)

Jerusalem Day came and went this year without much incident. Lots of fanfare, but little incident.

This should not be a big deal, since that’s how things worked most years since the capital was united in 1967. Yet it is a big deal, and one worth noting.

Why? Because Hamas threatened, once again, to fire rockets at Jerusalem if the annual flag march proceeded as usual through the Damascus Gate to the Western Wall; because other terror groups in Gaza threatened to set fields in southern Israel alight via inflammable balloons if the march went ahead; because there was concern that some terror group or a “lone wolf” attacker would try to carry out a terrorist attack in the capital to mar the day and the Israeli celebration.

But, for the most part, the day passed without incident.

Mostly, but not entirely.

Itamar Ben-Gvir waves a flag at the Jerusalem Flag March on June 15 (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)Itamar Ben-Gvir waves a flag at the Jerusalem Flag March on June 15 (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)

Jerusalem Day joins list of highly sensitive days

As in years past, a few among the tens of thousands of marchers disgracefully chanted racist anti-Arab slogans and sang anti-Arab songs while marching through the Old City’s Muslim Quarter. This needs to be roundly condemned. Such actions are reprehensible. In addition, such actions by a small minority give the whole march a bad name. The event organizers need to learn from this and figure out how to prevent this deplorable behavior from recurring year after year.

Another lesson to be learned from this year’s Jerusalem Day is that Israel need not be overly fearful or too mindful of the rhetoric of terrorist organizations.

Hamas and other terrorist organizations are trying to transform Jerusalem Day into a day Israelis will want to dread when it rolls around on the calendar. Suddenly, the number of days on the calendar that have turned into highly sensitive days prone to violence has increased rapidly.

In the beginning, there was Land Day.

Land Day, March 30, refers to the day in 1976 when six Arabs were killed during violent protests over land expropriation in the North to build Jewish communities. For years, March 30 was a day on the calendar that was to be dreaded because it would be met with often violent protests and disturbances.

Then more and more days appeared on the calendar when Israelis were told to brace for violence. The intermediary days of Passover and Sukkot, along with Shavuot, were marked as sensitive days because on these days tens of thousands of Jews went to the Western Wall, and some to the Temple Mount.

Then there was the day commemorating the “Nakba,” Israel’s independence, on May 15, and the “Naksa,” Israel’s victory in the Six Day War that began on June 5.

The security forces were placed on extra alert those days, and that generated a degree of tension among the population. Then, over the last few years, the entire month of Ramadan was earmarked as a sensitive time often marked by an uptick in terror.

And likewise, Jerusalem Day has joined this category over the last few years.

Once Hamas threatened to fire rockets at Israel – as it did in 2021 – or take some action if Israel went ahead with the march, they all but ensured that Israel would go through with the march. Even those people who might prefer a different route to reduce friction so the march would not be perceived as trying to rub the Arabs’ noses into Israel’s 1967 victory, even they could not back down and select a different route once Hamas threatened action. The reason is simple: Israel would be seen as caving to Hamas’s threats, which would set a dreadful precedent.

The same dynamic was at work in early January when newly minted National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir visited the Temple Mount – a site that Ben-Gvir visited, unannounced, on Sunday morning as well.

In January, as on Sunday, Ben-Gvir went to the Temple Mount in the early morning without much fanfare. Then, more than now, he announced his intention to go to the site, though without specifying a specific time. That led to threats and warnings from Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and others that such a visit would “open the gates of hell” and lead to a violent Middle East explosion.

 National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir visits the Temple Mount. May 21, 2023 (credit: TEMPLE MOUNT ADMINISTRATION) National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir visits the Temple Mount. May 21, 2023 (credit: TEMPLE MOUNT ADMINISTRATION)

Once those threats were issued, it became clear that neither Ben-Gvir nor the government could back down. By issuing threats, the terrorist organizations ensured the visit. Tellingly, and something worth noting, Ben-Gvir went up to the Temple Mount, yet the “gates of hell” did not open.

Why is that important? Because it is a reminder that one need not quiver every time Hamas or any other terrorist organization issues a threat.

Israelis don't need to quiver when terrorists issue threats

Likewise, Hamas ensured that the flag march would proceed along its traditional route once it issued threats against the Jerusalem Day celebration. To do otherwise would be to project a weakness Israel cannot afford to project. Here, too, Israel went ahead with the march as planned, and Hamas’s rhetoric proved empty.

Israel’s enemies are engaging it in psychological warfare, using social media and the traditional media to try and strike fear into the hearts of the country’s citizens. They want to create the perception that a noose is tightening around the state and that Israel’s opponents are – with Iran’s help – just getting stronger and stronger.

The Israeli public constantly hears how Hamas is getting more powerful, Hezbollah’s capabilities are getting much more advanced and how Iran’s various regional proxies are getting bigger and better armed.

But it is not as if everyone’s capabilities around Israel are improving, and Israel is just sitting on its hands. As Hezbollah and Hamas acquire more lethal weapons, Israel is developing the tools to deal with those weapons.

Hezbollah engaged in some of that psychological warfare on Sunday, holding maneuvers on the anniversary of Israel’s 2000 withdrawal from southern Lebanon and inviting the foreign media to cover it. Missiles, drones and armored vehicles were all on display, and the media’s job was to broadcast this to strike fear into the hearts of Israelis: “See what awaits you.”

It’s the same psychological warfare used by Hamas and Islamic Jihad: They can wreak havoc with their rockets. They can wreak havoc with their rockets, but Israel has the wherewithal to hit back and defend itself. That, too, is something of which it is worth reminding the Israeli public.

Hamas, with all its bluster, knew that if it were to fire rockets at Jerusalem because of the flag march, Israel would hit back hard. So Israel went ahead with the flag march, and Hamas held its fire.

Hezbollah knows the same. Their threats and displays of force need to be taken in stride. Israel is not helpless in the face of their threats and, therefore, need not allow their threats to lead to weak knees or dictate Israel’s policies – especially regarding what is and what is not permissible in the country’s capital.