Netanyahu Condemns West Bank Mosque Attack as 'Criminal Act'

Mosque in village near Ramallah torched and sprayed with graffiti; Defense Minister Barak echoes PM's condemnation and says IDF will take steps to catch the perpetrators.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday condemned the suspected 'price tag' attack by settlers of a mosque in Maghayer village near Ramallah, calling it a "criminal act".

An initial investigation has shown that in the early morning hours of Tuesday the settlers rolled burning tires into the mosque, which caused some rugs to catch fire. The mosque was also sprayed with graffiti.

Price Tag - David Bachar - June 7, 2011
David Bachar

"I hope the arsonists will be located as soon as possible and will be punished accordingly," Netanyahu said, adding "this is a criminal act that is meant to provoke."

The prime minister emphasized Israel's commitment to freedom of expression, saying "Freedom of religion is a core tenet of the State of Israel, and we will take action against anyone who attempts to go against this principle."

Defense Minister Ehud Barak echoed the prime minister's condemnations, instructing the Israel Defense Forces and other security forces to take whatever steps necessary to catch the perpetrators of the attack.

"This deplorable act is detrimental to peace," Barak said. The defense minister expressed confidence that security forces would bring the arsonists to justice.

The village in which the attack took place is located near the Alei Ayin outpost, where the Israeli security forces demolished illegal structures last week. The police is investigating whether the two events are linked.

Civil rights organizations have spoken out against the arson as well. Rabbis for Human Rights said Tuesday that this kind violence threatens everyone and may backfire. "This despicable act goes against human morality and our Jewish belief that we must not harm followers of different religion," the organization said in a statement.

The Peace Now movement responded by calling for more decisive actions against violent settlers. "The Shin Bet security service and the police must uproot the 'hill youth' phenomenon," it said.

This condemnation has not, however, been universal. Rightist activist Itamar Ben-Gvir said the arson doesn't come as a surprise. "In the last few months Jewish blood has been spilled like water in Judea and Samaria," he said. "Instead of dealing with enemies, the police tears down one outpost after another. The feelings of anger and discrimination have their consequences."