A Trappist monk passess by graffiti written in Hebrew reading: "Jesus is a monkey" and "mutual guarantee, Ramat Migron and Maoz Ester" (West Bank settlements) at the monastery of Latrun, between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, in September 2012. | AFP-JIJI
A recent surge in vandalism of Arab religious sites across Israel has resulted in widespread concern and several demonstrations demanding action from the Israeli police.
On 3 April in Jish, a town near the city of Safed in the northern Galilee, a mosque was vandalized with graffiti reading: “Only non-Jews will be driven out of our land.” The tires of over 40 cars were slashed. Security footage showed three people committing the attacks, but no arrests have been made.
Then on 18 April, the Araq al-Shabab mosque in the majority Arab town of Um al-Fahm was defaced with anti-Arab graffiti and the door and then set on fire. The vandals were caught on camera and two couples from the settlement of Yitzhar were arrested in connection with the acts. However, the town organized a general strike and demonstration three days later to protest, believing that the police are not doing enough to prevent and prosecute these attacks.
On 29 April, another two incidents occurred. In Fureidis, a majority Arab town near Haifa, citizens woke up to find that a mosque was defaced with the words: “Close mosques, not yeshivas.” A number of nearby cars had their tires slashed. On the same day in Nazareth, a car was painted with the Star of David and its tires were slashed.
Further, on 3 May, a Muslim cemetery in the city of Nesher, just outside of Haifa, was defaced with graffiti. The Al Qassam cemetery was spray painted with the Star of David, the names of John Kerry and Tzipi Livni, and the words “price tag.”
Christian and Druze also targeted
The Roman Catholic Bishop of Nazareth Giancito-Boulos Marcuzzo received a letter on 27 April threatening him and his church. The letter specified that all Christians, except Protestants and Anglicans, needed to leave Israel before 5 May or they would be “killed by the heavens.” The letter warned that for every hour of delay, 100 Christians would loose their lives. Signed by “Messiah, Son of David,” the letter asserted that Christians are contaminating Israel. Police recently arrested a 40-year-old male suspect in connection with the letter.
The same day, a baptism was interrupted in the village of Al Bassa, a Palestinian village destroyed in 1948. Christians had permission from the Archbishop of Acre to hold a baptism in the church of Al Bassa, one of the village’s few structures that remain standing. During the baptism, citizens from the Jewish town of Shlomi—which is built partially over the ruins of Al Bassa—drove up and honked loudly throughout the ceremony, shouting racial and religious slurs.
The following day, 28 April, officials at the Church of the Primacy of St. Peter in Tabgha in the Northern Galilee told the Associated Foreign Press that a cross in front of their church and several pews inside the church had been vandalized, and their clergy attacksedby Jewish teenagers.
On Wednesday, Times of Israel reported that a Druze citizen of Yok’neam, Dr. Khatem Hatar, arrived to work to find that his dentistry practice had been defaced with graffiti saying, "Death to Arabs" and "Greetings to Fureidis, Price Tag." His practice had been defaced less than a month before with the Star of David and the words “price tag.” Police have made no arrests yet.
“Price Tag” Attacks
“Price tag” attacks refer to assaults that have been carried out by an extremist right wing Jewish Israeli movement since 2008. The group primarily vandalizes Arab [Palestinian] property, although Arabs [Palestinians] themselves are also frequently harassed. These attacks are meant to exact a price from Palestinians or Israeli security forces for any actions taken against the Zionist settlement enterprise. The movement was initially concentrated in the West Bank and Jerusalem, but spread across the Green Line in 2013.
In the US State Department’s 2013 Country Reports on Terrorism, “price tag” attacks were, for the first time, categorized as terrorist acts, classifying them as “property crimes and violent acts by extremist Jewish individuals and groups in retaliation for activity they deemed to be anti-settlement.” The report also recorded that such attacks went largely unprosecuted in 2013.
On Wednesday 4 May police entered the settlement of Yitzhar to pursue an investigation surrounding the attacks in Um al-Fahm. Four suspects arrested in connection with the case, after their white Suzuki Baleno was seen on security footage. When the police entered the settlement, approximately 100 settlers surrounded the police and threw rocks at the officers and their vehicles.
Reactions of Israeli officials
As these price tag attacks are committed with increasing frequency, targeting religious institutions as well as individuals of varying backgrounds, Israeli forces are under pressure to pursue and prosecute the perpetrators.
Both the Israeli police and the government, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Shimon Peres, have condemned these attacks. Netanyahu spoke to members of his party about the attack on Fureidis, saying: “This is unsettling,” and claiming that “we will use the Shin Bet to capture those responsible.”
However, former chief of the Shin Bet Carmi Gillon and former Mossad chief Shabtai Shavit spoke at a cultural event in Beersheba on Sunday, claiming that these attacks aren’t being made enough of a priority. The Jerusalem Post reported that Gillon made remarks saying “if the head of the Shin Bet decides to deal with a certain issue, there will be results.”
Shavit said that when it comes to “Price Tag” attacks, “Israel doesn’t enforce its laws.”
Gillon also wrote an op-ed for Yedioth Ahronot, one of Israel’s leading daily papers, asserting that “price tag activity is a real threat the safety of all citizens…Experience shows that such activity deteriorates to terrorism for all intents and purposes and could inflame the situation among Israel's Arabs…As the 'price tag’ terror is directed against both Muslim and Christian religious institutions, this is a much more sensitive and explosive matter.” He urged the current Shin Bet chief to aggressively pursue the perpetrators of these attacks.
The interfaith organization Council of Religious Institutions of the Holy Land published a press release appealing to Israeli authorities “to allocate the resources necessary to both prevent such attacks and apprehend the perpetrators. We consider any attack on the sites of one religion to be, in effect, an attack on all religions and a desecration of the Divine Name.”
Despite at least 9 attacks in the past month and new ones occurring nearly everyday, there has thus far been minimal action to put an end to them.