(JTA) — Two weeks ahead of an Israeli election in which he is campaigning to allow security forces to shoot stone-throwers, Itamar Ben-Gvir, the leader of the extremist Otzma Yehudit party, drew his pistol during a confrontation in eastern Jerusalem.
The incident took place after several days of clashes in Jerusalem sparked by the killing of an Israeli soldier in a suburb last weekend. The tensions were intense enough that the city’s mayor took to the airwaves to deny that the city was “burning.”
Late Thursday, Ben-Gvir posted on Twitter a video of stone-throwing in Sheikh Jarrah, a Palestinian neighborhood where Jewish groups have claimed buildings that were in Jewish hands before 1948, and where tensions have seethed in recent years.
“To see it is to not believe it — an Arab terrorist throws stones at Jews, right in front of police,” he wrote. “Instead of shooting or arresting him, the policeman is content to push him back. It’s time we allowed police to crush the enemy, I’m on my way to the area now to protect Jewish residents. Enough with the capitulation.”
Ben-Gvir, who in polls is shown as expanding his party’s single seat in the Knesset to nine or 10, is campaigning on a platform that includes loosening open-fire rules to include stone-throwers as legitimate targets. Soon he was at the site, with media following and recording him.
Ben-Gvir stood in an open area, where he was vulnerable to stone-throwing, and police ushered him behind a truck, out of sight of the stone-throwers. He drew his pistol, waved it for about 30 seconds, and then replaced it in his holster. Throughout, he repeated multiple times, “If they throw stones, you shoot them!”
The incident is an example of why political opponents and liberal pundits commonly accuse Ben-Gvir of being a “pyromaniac” roaming Israel’s combustible friction points with a metaphoric oil can in hand. He made his appearance during the second night of clashes in Sheikh Jarrah.
The tensions follow the killing of a soldier, Noa Lazar, 18, who was shot at a checkpoint in Shuafat, a refugee camp in Jerusalem’s northern area. Israeli raids on the camp in a search for the shooter, as well as restrictions on residents aimed at preventing his escape, have sparked tensions and on Wednesday, they spread to Sheikh Jarrah.
Palestinian merchants held a citywide strike on Wednesday, and Palestinian organizers declared Friday to be a “day of rage.”
Police arrested 18 people, Jews and Palestinians, for alleged stone-throwing in Sheikh Jarrah.
Moshe Lion, the city’s mayor, told Israel Army Radio that the violence was the work of a small minority, and said the city was functioning and that Jewish residents were enjoying the Sukkot holiday unimpeded.
“The residents of East Jerusalem are an inseparable part of this city,” Lion said in remarks reported by the Times of Israel. “Yes, it’s true that there is a minority that occasionally raises the temperature. I am not here to convince people that there isn’t violence in specific sections, but to say that Jerusalem is burning? Absolutely not.”
It was not the first time that Ben-Gvir had drawn his gun in public. Last December, he brandished his gun at Arab parking lot attendants in a dispute over a parking spot.