Isabel Kershner
The New York Times
October 3, 2011 - 12:00am

JERUSALEM — A mosque in an Arab village in the Galilee, northern Israel, was set on fire in the early hours of Monday morning in what police said was an arson attack, and its walls were defaced with Hebrew graffiti. The perpetrators were widely suspected of being Jewish extremists.

The fire caused “serious damage” to the mosque in the village of Tuba-Zangariya, according to Micky Rosenfeld, a police spokesman.

Later Monday, about 200 villagers began to march from the village along the main road toward Rosh Pina, a Jewish town. Mr. Rosenfeld said the police used tear gas to disperse the protesters after some threw stones at police officers and burned tires on the road.

There have been a number of similar arson attacks on mosques in West Bank villages in recent months, part of a campaign known as “price tag” in which radical settlers exact a price from local Palestinians or from the Israeli security forces for any action taken against their settlement enterprise.

This time, too, an outside wall of the burned mosque was scrawled with the Hebrew words for “Price Tag” and “Revenge.” The word “Palmer” also appeared there, a reference to a Jewish settler, Asher Palmer, 25, who was killed along with his baby son when their car overturned on a West Bank road last month. The police said that the crash occurred after Mr. Palmer was struck in the head by a stone, and that they believe it was thrown by Palestinians.

But the latest mosque burning occurred inside Israel. Jews and Arabs live in a patchwork of villages and towns in the Galilee, where calm has prevailed for years. The last major disturbances occurred in 2000, when Israeli Arabs rioted along with Palestinians in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem at the outbreak of the second Palestinian intifada. Israeli police officers shot and killed 13 Israeli Arab citizens.

Arab citizens make up some 20 percent of Israel’s population of more than 7.5 million.

Israeli leaders condemned the arson attack. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement that the images from the burned mosque were “shocking” and had “no place in the state of Israel.”

The defense minister, Ehud Barak, said that the “criminals” who carried out the deed wanted to upset Jewish-Arab relations.

The president of Israel, Shimon Peres, and the country’s chief rabbis were planning to visit the mosque in Tuba-Zangariya on Monday evening in a show of solidarity, along with clerics from other faiths.

No arrests were made in the first 12 hours after the fire, according to the police. There have been no charges so far in the previous cases of arson against mosques in the West Bank.


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