Torching of Tomb Deliberate Attack on Muslim Site, Israeli Arab Mayor Says

Villagers protest arson at tomb on Saturday night, the second such incident in two years; police say no evidence yet of incident being a hate crime.

Residents of the village of Kaukab Abu al-Hija began to erect a protest tent after the torching of a tomb of a holy Muslim man, on February 13, 2016.
Rami Shlush

The torching of a tomb of a Muslim holy man over the weekend has sparked protest among residents of an Arab town in the Galilee.

Residents discovered the vandalism Sunday morning. This is the second time the tomb, in the village of Kaukab Abu al-Hija in northern Israel, has been vandalized. The perpetrators of the previous incident, which took place two years ago, were never caught.

Aside from serious damage to the tomb, holy books left in the compound were also burned. Residents began erecting a protest tent on the site.

Mayor Zaher Saleh told Haaretz that it is not yet clear who committed the vandalism or why, so the town council is being careful not to point an accusing finger at anyone. Nevertheless, he added, this appears to be a deliberate attack on a Muslim holy site, and he expects police to investigate thoroughly and bring the perpetrators to justice.

“It’s clear this was arson, because we found flammable material which was apparently used in [the attack] near the tomb,” he added.

The tomb holds the remains of Hussam al-Din Abu al-Hija, a Muslim military commander who fought with Saladin against the Crusaders. Many local residents pray and leave holy books there.

Police began investigating the incident and collected evidence from the crime scene on Sunday, but said they saw no indication that this was a hate crime, as they found none of the inflammatory graffiti that usually accompanies such acts. They stressed that they are pursuing several lines of inquiry, including ordinary vandalism.

The local council began repairing the site on Sunday, and also decided at an emergency session to bolster security around the tomb. In addition, it published a statement saying it expects police to treat the incident with all due seriousness and not dismiss it as a marginal matter.