Israel Police on High Alert as Clashes Ensue Following Mosque Arson

Security forces disperse youth in Tuba-Zanghariyya after 'price tag' arson of local mosque; police bracing for Israeli Arab revenge attacks as well as acts of settler violence over holidays.

Several dozen youths clashed with police overnight in a Bedouin village in northern Israel, hours after a local mosque was vandalized allegedly by Jewish extremists, officials said Tuesday.

The Bedouin protesters blocked roads with rocks, set fire to tires and threw stones at the police. Angry youth also torched the local council building, the local community center and a health clinic.

Yaron Kaminsky

Israel Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said the forces had dispersed the youths in Tuba-Zanghariyya, north of the Sea of Galilee, but police remained on high alert in the northern part of the country. Protesters in the village have taken to the streets since Monday morning, when the damage to the mosque was discovered.

Police are concerned that Israeli Arabs will carry out revenge attacks in the wake of the arson, and also fear acts by Jewish extremists will spark further agitation and violence during the upcoming holidays, particularly in cities with mixed Jewish-Arab populations.

The mosque in the village of Tuba-Zanghariyya, a Bedouin town of some 5,500 people two kilometers east of Rosh Pina, was attacked at about 2:30 A.M. on Monday morning. The mosque's interior was seriously damaged, and many holy books were destroyed by the blaze.

Police suspect that extreme right-wing Jews carried out the arson as a "price tag" operation, referring to vandalism and revenge actions initiated by activists, usually against Palestinians, following terror attacks or state demolitions in settlements or outposts.

Prior "price tag" arsons have been carried out at mosques in the West Bank, but vandalism of mosques in Israel proper has been extremely rare.

This time, in addition to spray-painting the words "price tag" and "revenge" on the mosque, the attackers also painted the word "Palmer," presumably a reference to Asher Palmer and his infant son, who were killed on September 23 when stones were thrown at their car near Kiryat Arba, causing it to crash.

Israeli leaders condemned the arson attack on Monday, wary that it could inflame the delicate relations between Israel's Arab minority and Jewish majority.

Rosenfeld said tempers calmed after President Shimon Peres led a delegation of Jewish, Christian, Muslim and Druze spiritual leaders in a visit to the village.

Meanwhile, the Shin Bet security service has warned the government that the delegitimization campaign that extreme right-wing activists are conducting against civil servants could end in serious violence. 

Shin Bet officials have identified a radicalization in the phenomena that first emerged ahead of the disengagement from Gaza in 2004, and see a connection between them and the increased attacks on mosques and Palestinian property - actions that their perpetrators are defining as "a price tag."

Shin Bet sources say members of the extreme right are making an effort to deter defense officials whose duties include coming into contact with such elements. The extremists are also trying to intimidate senior law enforcement officials, the Shin Bet sources add.

According to the Shin Bet, the right-wing extremists no longer appear to need a "trigger" to take action, while the targets of the violence are also widening - military vehicles at an IDF base near Ramallah have been vandalized, and threatening graffiti has been sprayed onto the apartment door of a left-wing activist. Attacks on Arabs and their property are carried out when the opportunity arises, the Shin Bet officials add.

Shin Bet officials believe that the acts of violence are being carried out by a few dozen individuals who are being supported by a circle of a few hundred right-wing activists. The vast majority of the settlers reject such actions, Shin Bet officials say.