JERUSALEM — Arsonists who police suspect are Jewish extremists torched a first-grade classroom and scrawled racist graffiti on the walls of one of the few Arabic-Hebrew bilingual schools in Israel.
Suspects hopped a fence and entered the Max Rayne Hand in Hand School for Bilingual Education in West Jerusalem sometime late Saturday night. They spray-painted the stone walls outside the classrooms with slogans such as “Death to Arabs” and “There is no coexistence with cancer.”
The arsonists gathered story books, toys and crayon drawings and built a fire that left the classroom charred. They attempted but failed to light a second classroom on fire. There was no one in the buildings at the time.
The school has been vandalized with graffiti three times this year, said Paz Cohen, chair of the Jerusalem parent-teacher association, whose daughter is one of the 600 students who attend the school, committed not only to shared languages but coexistence between Jews and Arabs. The students are taught about Christian, Jewish and Muslim cultures and religious beliefs.
“We live in a city with many different people,” Cohen said. “It is important for my daughter to keep her Jewish identity but also important for her to learn who else lives here.”
Jerusalem is about one-third Palestinian and two-thirds Jewish. Cohen said the Hand in Hand school is the only one in the city that is fully bilingual and mixes Arabs and Jews.
The attack was condemned Sunday by Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat as a hate crime. Israel’s justice minister, Tzipi Livni, said that a “racist demon” had emerged in Israel. She promised that the assailants would be pursued.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed to return “the rule of law” to Jerusalem, a city divided between Arab and Jewish neighborhoods and the scene of violent clashes in recent months between Palestinian youths and Israeli police. There has also been a string of deadly attacks against Jews here, culminating in the slaying of rabbis at prayer in a synagogue.
Ilene Prusher, a reporter for the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, wrote Sunday, “Someone didn’t want my son to go to school this morning. Someone would rather my child stay home than be a Jew learning in a classroom with Arabs.”
The school e-mailed parents informing them of the arson and asking that students show up for classes. Sunday is a regular school day in Israel.
Shuli Dichter, executive director of the school, said, “All the children are here. Not even one kid missed school today.”
Dichter said, “Extremists and racists don’t like us. They disagree with us. They won’t stop us. Ultimately, our society will be built by Arabs and Jews.”
The first-graders, he said, didn’t ask profound questions about what had happened to the classroom and why. “They asked, ‘Where’s my coat? What happened to my book?’ ”
Gadi Gvaryahu, an activist with a group that seeks to confront anti-Arab attacks, said Sunday that a committed state security apparatus should be able to find the culprits. The school has surveillance cameras.
The school, supported by private donations and the Israeli government, runs from kindergarten through high school and is roughly 60 percent Arab and 40 percent Jewish.