Mosque torched in northern Israel

October 3, 2011

Arsonists struck a mosque in an Arab village in northern Israel early Monday, causing extensive damage and leaving behind graffiti similar to scrawled messages left in recent months on mosques in the West Bank that authorities suspect were targeted by Jewish extremists.

The attack in the village of Tuba-Zangaria set off clashes between villagers and police, who used tear gas to disperse about 200 protesters. The protesting Arabs burned tires and hurled stones at officers, who blocked them as they marched toward a neighboring Jewish town, a police spokesman said.

The arsonists scrawled on a mosque wall the Hebrew words for “price tag” and “revenge,” as well as the name “Palmer,” referring to a Jewish settler and his infant son, who were killed when their car overturned near the West Bank city of Hebron last month. Police said the settler, Asher Palmer of Kiryat Arba, was hit in the head by a rock hurled by Palestinians and lost control of his car.

Militant settlers use the term “price tag” to signify retaliation, usually against Palestinian property, for moves by the Israeli authorities to dismantle unauthorized settlement outposts in the West Bank.

Although some previous arson attacks have targeted mosques in the West Bank, the mosque torching on Monday was in a community of Israeli Arabs, who make up one-fifth of Israel’s population.

Video footage of the site showed the fire-blackened interior of the mosque and burned books, which villagers said included volumes of the Koran.

A statement from the office of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he was “outraged by the images.” Netanyahu “said that this crime contravenes the values of the State of Israel, in which freedom of religion and freedom of worship are supreme values,” according to the statement. He instructed the chief of Israel’s Shin Bet security service to speedily capture the attackers, the statement said.

President Shimon Peres and Israel’s two chief rabbis later visited the mosque to express solidarity with the village, a Bedouin community whose members have served in Israel’s armed forces. “I am filled with shame,” Peres said as he surveyed the damage. In an earlier statement, he called the mosque burning “an un-Jewish act.”

The Israeli military’s demolition last month of three houses in Migron, the largest unauthorized settlement outpost in the West Bank, led to a series of “price tag” attacks in the area. The attackers defaced two Palestinian mosques, one of which was also torched, and damaged vehicles at an Israeli army base. Threatening messages were later scrawled near the apartment of a prominent Israeli anti-settlement activist from the Peace Now movement in Jerusalem.

Ahmad Tibi, an Israeli Arab legislator, said the attack on the mosque in Tuba-Zangaria stemmed from a failure by the Israeli authorities to enforce the law against violent settlers in the West Bank,where none of the mosque attacks have led to prosecutions.

“Those who did not deal with this cancer in the occupied West Bank should not be astonished by the fact that it has metastasized inside Israel,” Tibi said.

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