MK Ben Gvir pulls out gun during Sheikh Jarrah clash
Politician brandishes weapon after rock thrown toward him and supporters during appearance in tense East Jerusalem neighborhood, urges cops to open fire on Arabs.
Ultra-nationalist Knesset Member Itamar Ben Gvir brandished a gun during a tour of an East Jerusalem neighborhood amid intense clashes between Jewish Israelis and Palestinians Thursday night, drawing fire from political opponents.
Ben Gvir did not use the weapon but called on police to use live fire on Arabs throwing stones, a night after threatening to “mow down” a group of Palestinians as he shouted at them during a visit to the same area.
The incident came as Ben Gvir, head of the right-wing Otzma Yehudit party, visited the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood, where Thursday night saw Palestinians and Jewish Israelis hurling stones at each other, as fighting in several East Jerusalem neighborhoods resumed for a second consecutive night.
Two Jewish teens were hurt, one moderately, during Thursday’s fighting in Sheikh Jarrah. Police said five people were detained over the violence.
In a video from the scene, Ben Gvir is seen standing with a group of supporters and security guards, some 25 meters from a group of Palestinians when a stone flies through the air. Ben Gvir raises both of his hands in the air and the group, including a guard with a submachine gun, quickly walks backward to take cover behind a parked truck.
Once safely behind the truck, the politician unholsters a handgun and moves back out from behind the truck while yelling repeatedly for a police officer in riot gear to shoot at the stone-throwers.
“Don’t look here. If they throw stones, shoot them,” he is heard telling the cop as a guard tries to pull him back behind the truck. He reholsters the gun after about 30 seconds.
Ben Gvir later said he pulled out the weapon because he felt threatened.
“The politicians are tying the hands of our cops,” he said in a tweet that included a picture of him with the pistol. “It cannot be that Arabs throw stones next to cops and the cops don’t respond with fire.”
He also shared a video of the incident from a different angle, which shows officers pushing away an Arab man who appears to throw the stone, saying it was “unbelievable,” that he wasn’t shot or arrested.
Another video from the visit showed him facing off against a group of Palestinians, saying that “the landlord” is here while thumping his chest, before someone is heard yelling “soon you’ll get stoned.”
On Wednesday night, Ben Gvir also visited Sheikh Jarrah, largely without incident, amid similar clashes.
In footage from the Wednesday visit, Ben Gvir is seen lecturing to a group of Arabs that “if you throw stones, I’ll mow you down.”
“We’re the landlords here, remember that, I am your landlord,” he says.
Sheikh Jarrah, parts of which were historically known as Shimon Hatzadik, has become one of Jerusalem’s tensest neighborhoods. Jewish nationalists have sought to evict Palestinian residents in decades-long legal battles that helped touch off an 11-day war between Israel and the Hamas terror group in the Gaza Strip last year.
The firebrand politician, a former follower of extremist politician Meir Kahana, is a frequent visitor to the neighborhood during times of increased friction and has been accused of egging on tensions. He has twice attempted to set up a political “bureau” in the neighborhood — consisting of a folding table and a pop-up canopy — in response to attacks on homes where Jewish families live in recent years and has also clashed with police.
Left-wing politicians swiftly pounced on Ben Gvir for brandishing the gun, with Meretz MK Mossi Raz saying he would ask the Knesset sergeant-at-arms to void Ben Gvir’s gun license.
Fellow Meretz MK Yair Golan called the incident “a significant contribution to setting the ground on fire.”
“Ben Gvir pulls out a gun and signals his supporters that way, that it’s okay to pull it out, okay to kill,” Meretz minister Issawi Frej chided.
Hadash MK Ofer Kassif wrote that Ben Gvir’s place “is in prison, not the Knesset.”
The incident came weeks before Israelis are set to return to the polls, with Religious Zionism — which merged with Otzma for the election — widely forecast to be one of the three largest parties. Should Likud’s Benjamin Netanyahu retake power, Ben Gvir, is widely thought to be likely to receive a senior ministerial portfolio.
Earlier on Thursday, Ben Gvir told the Ynet news site that one of his demands for joining a coalition would be changes to open-fire rules for the police and army. Ben Gvir and other right-wing politicians have consistently complained that Israel’s rules of engagement are too strict.
The Otzma leader indicated he would seek for forces to be ordered to use live fire in response to any attack, including paint being thrown at heavily armored vehicles.
“Troops should get out, stop and shoot, and not use rubber bullets or sponge-tipped bullets. Live fire, that [will be] the law,” he said. He did not say if the policy would also apply to attacks by extremist Jewish youth who attack army vehicles in the West Bank, many of whom are among his supporters.
The Sheikh Jarrah face-off came as tensions have risen considerably in Jerusalem in recent days, amid a widespread police operation to collar a Palestinian suspected of opening fire on a group of guards at a checkpoint Saturday night, killing one.
On Wednesday night, intense rioting broke out across Palestinian areas of the city, though on Thursday much of the violence was more limited outside of Sheikh Jarrah.
An additional four Border Police reserve companies were to be deployed Friday morning, as police braced for further violence over the weekend.