Jewish extremists are suspected of torching a mosque in a northern Israeli town Monday, the latest in a string of anti-Arab attacks that have enraged Palestinians and alarmed Israeli security officials.
After setting the fire in the early-morning hours, vandals spray-painted the words “revenge” and “price tag” on the walls of the mosque in the Bedouin village of Tuba-Zangaria.
Similar messages have been left in the West Bank, where attackers have burned mosques, cars belonging to Palestinians and olive trees. They have also vandalized an Israeli army base and the Jerusalem home of an Israeli anti-settlement activist.
Extremist groups say such attacks are in retaliation for efforts to dismantle Jewish settlements that Israel has deemed to be illegally built, or for incidents of Palestinian violence against settlers. Last month two Israelis were killed in a car accident that police say was caused by rocks thrown at their vehicle.
The increase in anti-Arab attacks has also been linked to the Palestinians’ campaign at the United Nations to become a full member state.
Palestinian and Israeli officials have condemned the attacks as acts of terrorism. Israel’s Shin Bet domestic security agency warned recently that those responsible are escalating their activity and evolving from small vigilante squads into organized terrorist cells.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed to catch the vandals. “The images are shocking and have no place in the state of Israel,” he said in a statement. Police said they had arrested suspects but gave no details.
Residents of Tuba-Zangaria protested the attack, and scores of youths clashed briefly with Israeli police, who had been deployed to prevent Arab Israelis from confronting residents of nearby Jewish towns.
Arab leaders said they suspected the attack was inspired by statements from rabbis in the nearby ultra-Orthodox town of Safed, where religious leaders have been accused of inciting violence and encouraging discrimination against Arabs, who make up about 20% of Israel’s population. Most recently, Safed rabbis urged Jews not to rent property to Arabs.
Safed Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu told Israel Radio that the attack was “inappropriate,” but he would not condemn it and said it had not been proved that Jewish extremists were responsible.
Israeli Arab lawmaker Ahmed Tibi blamed the government for failing to stem the violence when it began several weeks ago in the West Bank.
“Failure to stop such a cancerous growth in the occupied territories results in it spreading into Israel,” he said on Israel Radio.