Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh warned Israel in a Sunday speech against allowing right-wing Israelis to conduct the annual Jerusalem Day “Flag March” in Jerusalem’s Old City next week, a year after Hamas fired rockets at Jerusalem when the event was last held.
“I want to clearly warn the enemy against committing these crimes and these steps. The Palestinian people, led by the resistance – especially those in the West Bank and Jerusalem – will not allow this Jewish, Talmudic rubbish to go unanswered, ”said Haniyeh, speaking by video in front of a crowd in Gaza.
“Our decision is clear and unhesitating. We will resist with all our capabilities and we will not allow the violation of the Al-Aqsa Mosque or thuggery in the streets of Jerusalem,” said Haniyeh.
Last week, Public Security Minister Omer Barlev announced that the march would be held the same way as in previous years. According to the Barlev-approved plan, marchers will walk along Jaffa Street to Damascus Gate, where access will be blocked for Palestinians. They will continue into the Old City through Hagai Street in the Muslim Quarter and finish at the Western Wall.
The plan still requires cabinet authorization. But Barlev’s announcement immediately sparked controversy in the coalition, with left-wing lawmakers attacking the decision, saying it risked sparking an escalation with Palestinian terror groups.
Jerusalem Day, which marks Israel’s conquest of the Old City and East Jerusalem from Jordan in the 1967 Six Day War, is celebrated by national-religious Jews, most prominently by youths who march through the capital while dancing with Israeli flags. Palestinians have long viewed the march as a provocation.
Last year’s march was held as tensions skyrocketed between Israel and the Palestinians in Jerusalem. Israeli police had clashed repeatedly with Palestinians on the flashpoint Temple Mount holy site during the final days of the holy month of Ramadan, leaving hundreds injured. There was also tension surrounding potential evictions of Palestinians from East Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood.
Israeli authorities altered the route of the 2021 march an hour before it was set to be held following Hamas threats. Police fanned out across the Old City in an attempt to prevent Israeli marchers from reaching Damascus Gate.
But Hamas fired nonetheless rockets towards Jerusalem during the march. Sirens wailed through the capital as participants rushed for cover.
The rocket fire sparked last year’s 11-day war between Israel and Gaza terror groups. Hamas has vowed not to allow Israel to repeat the yearly rally.
In his speech, Haniyeh noted with satisfaction that “this march was torn apart by Al-Qassam rockets one year ago” – a reference to the terror group’s military wing.
A masked spokesperson for a cluster of Gaza terror groups, including Hamas, followed up with comments after Haniyeh’s speech. Flanked by four armed gunmen, he similarly threatened Israel over the Flag March.
“Our people will absolutely not allow Israel to break the rules of engagement and to allow a return to provocations,” the spokesman told the assembled crowd in Gaza.
This year’s march again comes amidst roiling tensions between Israel and the Palestinians. Since March 22, a wave of deadly terror attacks has struck Israeli cities, killing 19 – the bloodiest violence outside of war in years.
Israeli counter-raids in the West Bank left at least 30 Palestinians dead over the same period. Many were gunmen involved in firefights with Israeli soldiers or took part in violent clashes. Others were apparently uninvolved civilians, such as Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, who was killed in disputed circumstances two weeks ago in Jenin, sparking an international outcry.
The violence again overlapped with the holy month of Ramadan. Palestinians and Israeli police clashed several times at the Temple Mount site, although the tensions did not escalate into widespread violence. Jews reveal the hilltop as the holiest site in their religion, while Muslims claim it as Islam’s third-holiest shrine.
As tensions peaked in late April, Jewish nationalists sought to organize a flag march inspired by the annual Jerusalem Day event. Hamas threatened to respond violently if the march went ahead, saying its “finger was on the trigger.”
Organizers of the event originally planned to enter the Old City through Damascus Gate directly into the Muslim Quarter, and continue through there to the Western Wall. Had they been successful, the marchers would have been met head-on by crowds of Muslim worshipers, packed into the Old City in the immediate hours before breaking the Ramadan fast.
Israeli police forcibly barred participants – including far-right Knesset lawmaker Itamar Ben Gvir – from heading to the Old City via Damascus Gate. The day ultimately passed without an attack by the Gaza terror group.