Israel Police Scrambles to Stop Mosque Arsonists From Striking Again

Team of some 30 police reviews all old files with even minor charges against extreme right-wingers, keeps them under surveillance.

Chaim Levinson
Chaim Levinson
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Chaim Levinson
Chaim Levinson

Some 30 police personnel have been waging an all-out war against the extreme right-wing in an attempt to find the people responsible for setting fire to six mosques over the past two years.

One member of the elite undercover unit of the police's serious crimes division has been busy for the past two months following a 17-year-old member of the settlers' so-called hilltop youth.

The mosque in the Galilee village of Tuba which was set alight October 2, 2011.Credit: Yaron Kaminsky

The unit's investigators believed that the girl would lead them to the elusive arsonists who have been targeting mosques, but she did not. In the end, the surveillance led to a charge against the girl, who was indicted last week.

According to the indictment, the girl, identified as H., neared the International Convention Center in Jerusalem and "passed a number of parked cars, among them a car with a police license plate. H. went three car-lengths beyond the police vehicle, returned to it, approached it and tried to pry out the front license plate. When she failed, she kicked the car and continued on her way."

After the arson attack on a mosque at Tuba-Zangaria in the north, the police commissioner assigned a large team to the investigation. The central unit of the Judea and Samaria District, which had been in charge of the files, was sidelined. Investigators from the Shin Bet security service also took a step back

In seeking new evidence, the team has been reviewing all the old files with even minor charges against extreme right-wingers and has kept them under surveillance, according to material submitted to the court.

The extensive material caught by the army's cameras in the West Bank is also being examined in an attempt to find a lead.

Also, three soldiers have been arrested by the Military Police, based on evidence provided by the Serious and International Crimes Unit. Still, the results have been meager and all requests for a remand until the end of proceedings were turned down.

The first person arrested was Alex Ostrovsky, on suspicion of torching military vehicles at the headquarters of the Binyamin Brigade. The arrest was made based on fingerprints found on a bag of food inside the base.

Next came the arrests of Israel Katz, Elkaha Pikar and another adult and a minor on suspicion of setting fire to the mosque in Beit Fajar near Bethlehem. Then, in November, Yaron Kalav and two minors were arrested on suspicion of torching the Beit Fajar mosque in October last year.

On November 6, Hillel Liebowitz, Katz and a minor were arrested on suspicion of conspiracy to commit arson. They had already been arrested in March on their way north after bottles of gasoline were found in their car. They said they had the gas in case their car ran out.

The police reopened the case after a policeman said he had also seen matches in the car. The three were indicted but released, Last week six girls and one adult, Yisca Weiss, were arrested. Four were charged with "brawling" after they turned army equipment upside down in an area between the Arab village of Kusra and the settlement of Shiloh.

Right-wing activists called the incident a "pajama party." Another woman, who was also tried for brawling, told a police investigator: "I know where you live." The court released her and issued a restraining order keeping her away from Kusra for 90 days.

Weiss was charged with conspiring to destroy olive trees, based on evidence gathered from a wiretap, according to court records. Another minor arrested for damaging olive trees has already been released.

Last week a soldier in the Ordnance Corps at Binyamin Brigade headquarters was arrested on suspicion of taking part in the vandalization of the army vehicles. He is to remain in custody until Thursday. Three other soldiers have been cleared of all charges and released.

"The Serious and International Crimes Unit investigators are good people, most of whose skills are directed at playing catch and hide and seek with children instead of rooting out real crime," Attorney Ariel Atari, representing some of the arrested youths, told Haaretz.

Sources in the police's Judea and Samaria central unit say the new team is burning its intelligence bridges with arrests that lead nowhere.

An officer reportedly said in a meeting to discuss new approaches that just as the police operated to bring the heads of crime families to justice, they would get the hilltop youth on minor charges to stop the mosque arson.

The police said: "Over the past three months, four serious indictments have been served, including 14 people involved in nationalist crimes. Most of the suspects are minors, who by law are treated in a way that makes it easier on the suspect both during an investigation and frequently in judicial decisions. The police intend to continue to suppress nationalist crime in all legal means at its disposal."

Read this article in Hebrew.



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