Arab town in Israel latest hit by rash of hate crimes

Israeli Arabs in Umm al-Faham hold Palestinian flags shouting slogans during a protest last week against an act of vandalism at the city's mosque.
(Ahmad Gharabli / AFP/ Getty Images)

Schools, businesses and services were shuttered Wednesday in Fureidis the day after the Arab town became the latest community in Israel to be vandalized in a rash of hate crimes.

Worshipers arriving at a mosque early Tuesday found its outer walls marred by graffiti and the tires of dozens of cars parked nearby slashed.

A Star of David was spray-painted on the mosque, along with the words “close mosques, not yeshivas.”


The message appears to refer to the army’s recent move to take control of a yeshiva, or Jewish school, in the West Bank settlement of Yitzhar after extremists thought to be associated with it attacked an Israeli military outpost earlier April.

Thousands of Arabs and Jews attended a rally Tuesday in Fureidis, about 12 miles south of Haifa, to protest government inaction against hate crimes targeting minorities and to demand an end to them before they lead to violence.

Some demonstrators held signs saying “price tag is terror.”

Price tag is the term used by suspected Jewish extremists behind a wide range of attacks against Palestinians and their property in the West Bank, supposedly to exact a price for government moves against the settlements there.

In recent years, vandals have increasingly targeted sites and communities inside Israel, desecrating mosques, monasteries and cemeteries with racist and political scrawls against non-Jews and damaging private property.

Among the visiting supporters were members of a forum called Tag Meir, or Light Tag in Hebrew. Dedicated to combating such racism, its members, including many orthodox Jews, make a point of traveling to every community targeted in Israel and the West Bank to express solidarity.

President Shimon Peres called Mayor Yunis Marii and apologized on behalf of Israeli citizens. Denouncing the acts in Marii’s town as “despicable,” contradicting Jewish faith and Israel’s interest, Peres promised perpetrators would be apprehended and tried.

Finance Minister Yair Lapid visited the town Wednesday and said that “anyone violating another’s place of worship has no respect for his own God.”

After years of using the term price-tag coined by the perpetrators, Israeli authorities now recognize the attacks as hate crimes with dangerous potential of threatening interfaith relations and possibly leading to violence.

But despite strong government words and a designated police unit, offenders are rarely caught. According to local media, several investigations are under gag order.

April alone has seen an increase in vandalism of non-Jewish sites including a monastery in Deir Rafat, a Muslim cemetery in Jerusalem, the largely Christian village of Jeish, and damage to private property belong to Arab citizens in Israel.

In one case, surveillance cameras captured an offender spray-painting the words “Arabs out” on the walls of a mosque in Umm al-Faham.

Israeli authorities that can “bring an Iranian weapons ship from the end of the world and track down a cell-phone number in the middle of Gaza” should be able to find and try those who desecrated or torched over 30 mosques and churches in Israel and the West Bank in the last five years, said a post of the forum’s Facebook page Wednesday. [link in Hebrew]

Sobelman is a special correspondent.