"I will continue to demand the government define these hooligans as a terror organization," Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch said on Thursday, referring to several hate crimes committed in recent days in northern Israel against Israeli Arabs.
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"We know who is committing these acts and plan to make more arrests shortly. We intend to put these criminals behind bars," Aharonovitch said while visiting the mosque in the Israeli Arab village Fureidis, the site of one of the recent attacks. Here he met with the head of the city council, several of its members and village representatives.
"These are a bunch of criminals taking the law into their own hands. Most of them are in Judea and Samaria, are part of the extreme right and we know who most of them are," he said, adding that these are not a few bad apples but a large number of people who are being monitored by intelligence officials.
On Monday night, vandals spray-painted a Star of David and the phrase “close down mosques, not yeshivas” on the mosque. The tires of several cars parked in the area were slashed as well. On Wednesday, residents of Fureidis declared a general strike to protest the hate crime.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu condemned Wednesday the anti-Arab attack in the northern Israeli Arab town. "What happened in Fureidis is infuriating," Netanyahu said during a meeting with Arab, Bedouin, Druze, and Circassian Likud activists. "We are working to find those responsible. I have ordered reinforcements and we are using the Shin Bet's tools. This is a major target because it contradicts our character and our values."
On Tuesday, some 2,500 Arabs and Jews demonstrated against the recent wave of anti-Arab attacks in both Israel and the West Bank. Fureidis Mayor Yunis Marii said the strike, which will include schools as well as businesses, is meant to send a similar message – that such attacks are unacceptable. Nevertheless, he added, hate crimes won’t undermine the generally good relations between Jewish and Arab residents of the area.
Settlers in custody over Umm al-Fahm attack
Two married couples were arrested on Wednesday in connection with the arson attack on a mosque in Umm al-Fahm two weeks ago, but one of the couples has since been released.
The Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court extended Ami-Chai Matoki’s detention for three days, until Sunday, and his wife Nira Matoki's detention for 24 hours. She is due to be released on Friday.
The two settlers from Yitzhar in the West Bank are suspects in the April 18 attack on a mosque in the Arab city of Umm al-Fahm in the northern Israel. The mosque's door was charred and the building was spray-painted with the slogan “Arabs out" in a "price tag" attack, a term that has become Israeli shorthand for anti-Arab hate crimes.
Footage from security cameras near the mosque captured a Suzuki Baleno sedan at the scene of the crime, Shai District police said, noting that the car's make and model matches the one owned by the couple. Suspicions against the couple have only increased after the couple tried to lie about the car when they arrived for the station for questioning a week ago. When investigators summoned the couple, they specifically asked them to bring their vehicle. Instead, the Matokis arrived at the district police station in a Suzuki Baleno borrowed from a neighbor in Yitzhar and tried to pass it off as their own.
Police then invoked a recent government decision that the perpetrators of “price tag” attacks constitutes an illegal organization and barred the couple from meeting with their lawyer at first.
During and after Thursday's hearing, the Matokis’ lawyer, Itamar Ben Gvir, criticized the police's handling of the case.
Ben Gvir, accused police during the hearing of putting unreasonable pressure on Nira Matoki and violating her basic rights. Matoki said a police investigator threatened to have her children taken from her by the welfare authorities saying, "you’ll never see your children again.” She was also strip-searched in a humiliating fashion, according to Ben Gvir.
As for their car appearing at the scene of the crime, Ben Gvir said that since Yitzhar is like a kibbutz in that all the residents use each other’s property freely, anyone could have driven the Matokis’ sedan to Umm al-Fahm. This is a claim the couple didn’t make when questioned by the police. During their interrogation, they exercised their right to remain silent.
But Judge Avital Chen found Ben Gvir's defense unconvincing. “There is a good or even very good reason to believe that this is the car that was spotted at the scene of the incident during the incident,” she said. “The fact that police investigators came to them specifically is no accident.”
After the hearing, Ben Gvir charged that by not allowing the Matokis to see a lawyer, police had effectively barred them from telling their side of the story. “Now that the couple has been allowed to meet with a lawyer, I’m certain they will tell their story, which will make it clear that they had no part in these acts, and they will be released from arrest soon,” he said.
The settlement of Yitzhar said in a statement that police were “hitching a ride on the delegitimization of the entire settlement over the last two weeks. They have removed two families from their houses – one without a warrant – and left their 10 children alone, just because they own a common make of car that’s suspected in a 'price tag' operation. Someone here has lost his sense of proportion.”