The Israeli occupation government, opposition groups and extreme far-right Jewish settlers were all betting on the provocative Flag March to cause a major upheaval when it passed through the Muslim Quarter in occupied Jerusalem’s Old City at the weekend. Settlers have been using such a march since 1967 to celebrate Israel’s occupation of East Jerusalem. The current Israeli government led by Naftali Bennett wanted to use the grotesque display of open racism to reinforce its sovereignty over the holy city and prove that Israel still has a deterrence factor against the Palestinian resistance.
Opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu, whose Likud party has the largest number of seats in the Knesset, attempted to exploit the event to trigger incidents that might have undermined Bennett’s government. The extremist settlers, meanwhile, insisted on taking the route they proposed for the march and rejected attempts to divert them despite heavy pressure from Bennett’s allies in the coalition government. They insisted that the march should go ahead according to their plan in order to prove Israel’s sovereignty over the occupied holy city.
Bennett and senior army officers insisted that the march could go ahead despite warnings by military and political veterans, as well as warnings by the Palestinian resistance groups that they would respond against Israel should anything untoward happen.
“If we had not done it through the normal route, we would effectively never be able to go back to it. It could have been a withdrawal of sovereignty,” said Bennett. “We proved that the State of Israel acts based on what’s right and not based on threats.”
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Netanyahu encouraged the participation of two fanatical Israeli Jewish groups, La Familia and Lehava, which have been tied to cases of violence against Arabs in Israel and the occupied West Bank over a number of years.
The government deployed thousands of military policemen to keep the march moving without violations and ensure that the settlers would not provoke the Palestinians and thus trigger a response from the resistance groups, or prompt international criticism. Nevertheless, Netanyahu ensured that some members of the most extreme Jewish groups did indeed provoke and attack the Palestinians and then performed their religious rituals at Al-Aqsa Mosque.
According to Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, La Familia and Lehava hijacked the day. “We cannot accept that these are the images left at the end of Jerusalem Day,” he said. “The Israeli majority must take back the Flag March, and Jerusalem, and the State of Israel. We are the majority. They are an extremist minority.”
It is arguable that the Flag March “proved” Israeli sovereignty, as Bennett claimed. After all, the settlers needed thousands of security personnel and a curfew to protect them along the route. None of them would have dared to fly an Israeli flag and walk along the route on their own, despite the restrictions imposed on the Palestinians and attacks on worshippers in Al-Aqsa Mosque.
The Jewish settlers could stand in Jerusalem at Damascus Gate for hours and then go home, while the Palestinians, despite the large number of Israeli occupation police deployed to deal with them, were waving their flags and are still there despite the heavy police presence. What does sovereignty mean if the state is unable to control it?
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According to Amichai Attali, Yedioth Ahronoth’s parliamentary affairs reporter “There is no sovereignty in Jerusalem during the era of Naftali Bennett. There was no such sovereignty under Netanyahu, Olmert, Sharon or all their predecessors. Because the leaders did not dare to make decisions, Jerusalem was never united.”
What’s more, any deterrence factor that Israel may have had has long since disappeared. The heavy police presence, curfew and restrictions on Palestinian movement are all evidence of that fact. As was the deployment of the Iron Dome missile defence system all over the occupation state in case the resistance groups responded to the provocation and anti-Arab racism of the marchers. The army has been involved in one of the largest ever military drills in order to be ready for a massive offensive against the Palestinians “just in case”.
The military correspondent for Israel’s Channel 13 reported that soldiers were hidden along the nominal border fence with the Gaza Strip and empty military vehicles were parked in exposed places to attract fire from the Palestinians, making any response from the people of Gaza ineffective. Where, in all of this, is Israel’s deterrence factor?
The Palestinian resistance groups may yet respond to the Israeli violations in Jerusalem and the Flag March; I do not think that the page has been turned. “The resistance will decide how and when to respond in accordance with the information it has and at the right time,” said Hamas spokesman for Jerusalem affairs Mohammad Hamada.
We also know that Israel sent Qatari, Egyptian and UN mediators to ask Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh to say that the movement would not respond and both sides could go back to normal life. His media advisor pointed out that Haniyeh turned down all such requests.
Netanyahu’s incitement of the fanatics failed to achieve his objective, so he will be disappointed by the result. To make matters worse for the far-right former prime minister, Israeli Defence Minister Benny Gantz is talking about placing La Familia and Lehava on Israel’s list of designated terrorist organisations.
As far as I can see it, therefore, the organisers of the march who wanted to prove Israel’s sovereignty over Jerusalem and the Israeli politicians who thought it would help to promote their own interests were the losers on Sunday. The winners were the Palestinian Jerusalemites who had their suffering under the neo-fascist apartheid occupation state exposed yet again for the whole world to see; likewise, the Palestinians in Gaza came out on top with the resistance groups taking the wise decision to avoid a well-prepared Israeli offensive against the coastal enclave.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.