Isabel Kershner
The New York Times
October 7, 2011 - 12:00am

The founders of this Bedouin Arab village in the Israeli countryside tied their fate to that of their Jewish neighbors even before the establishment of the Israeli state in 1948.

Israeli police officers fired tear gas at residents of the village protesting the arson attack.
The once nomadic Muslim tribesmen here helped defend early Jewish settlements in the area during the Arab revolt of the 1930s, local residents recalled. In the 1940s, they formed a strong alliance with Yigal Allon, then a young commander of the Palmach, the elite Zionist fighting force, receiving land in return for their loyalty and support.

The main road leading up to the Zangariya quarter of the village is named Yigal Allon Boulevard. Some of the young men of the village volunteer for service in the Israeli military.

So after arsonists, widely suspected of being Jewish extremists, set fire to a mosque in the Zangariya neighborhood early on Monday, the village was seething. Youths burned tires around the village and later set fire to some of its public buildings.

Many residents here expressed fear that unless the perpetrators were caught and calm was restored, the delicate web of coexistence that binds Tuba-Zangariya and the neighboring Jewish collective farms and towns north of the Sea of Galilee could be ruined. On Thursday an Israeli court remanded one suspect, a Jewish youth, in connection with the burning of the mosque, but he has not yet been charged. The suspect’s lawyer identified him as an 18-year-old seminary student with ties to one of the staunchest Jewish settlements in the West Bank, The Associated Press reported.

“We are the only Bedouin town in the area, surrounded by Jewish neighbors,” said Ali Heib, 31, a member of one of the two large clans in Tuba-Zangariya, describing the intricate relationship as one of mutual dependency. “We work in their places.”

Mr. Heib was sitting with dozens of other villagers under an awning in the forecourt of the mosque a day after the blaze. They drank coffee, received a stream of visitors from nearby Arab and Jewish communities and held afternoon prayers in the open air.

The arson attack followed a series of similar assaults on mosques in West Bank Palestinian villages. Hebrew graffiti scrawled at the charred entrance of the mosque here bore the stamp of radical Jewish settlers in the West Bank and their sympathizers, calling for revenge for a Jewish settler who was killed last month along with his infant son after their car overturned in the West Bank. Israeli officials said that the crash occurred after the car was stoned by Palestinians.

The messages seemed incongruous here, in the mostly tranquil Galilee. Israeli leaders hastened to condemn the act. The president, Shimon Peres, ministers and the country’s chief rabbis have visited the mosque in a show of solidarity.

But police clashes during protests after the attack further inflamed the atmosphere. As the villagers awoke to the news of the arson, hundreds marched to the entrance of the village and began making their way along the road toward Rosh Pina, one of the earliest Zionist settlements. Witnesses said the police immediately set about dispersing the crowd with tear gas and stun grenades.

Villagers said they had only wanted to demonstrate on the main road, to register their protest. The police said that stones were thrown at officers; the villagers said it was the police who started the confrontation.

Some of the demonstrators contrasted the conduct of the police with the restraint Jewish-led protests usually encounter in Israel.

“They dealt with us as if we were in the West Bank or Gaza,” Musa Heib, 27, said.

The next night, after being blocked at the entrance of the village again, enraged youths set fire to the local council building and vandalized a community sports center and a health clinic, spraying the facades with bullets. A nearby Jewish-owned field also went up in flames. The police have arrested a number of suspects.

Israel’s Arab citizens number more than 1.5 million and make up about 20 percent of the country’s population.

Relations with the state have been compromised by what many Israelis, Arabs and Jews alike, have recognized as decades of discrimination.

In addition, there is a widespread sense here that some in the right-leaning Israeli government have given a tailwind to what critics view as growing popular strains of racism.

Last year, Shmuel Eliyahu, the chief rabbi of Safed, an ancient Jewish town about five miles west of Tuba-Zangariya, urged Jewish residents to refrain from renting or selling apartments to non-Jews.

Despite calls for the removal of the rabbi, who has been accused of incitement against Arabs in the past, he remains in his position on the public payroll.

Sheik Fuad Zangariya, 29, the soft-spoken imam of the burned mosque in Tuba-Zangariya, said that the arson was “perhaps linked to the Safed rabbi’s hatred of Arabs.”

Rabbi Eliyahu told Israel Radio on Monday that the mosque burning was “wrong and improper.” But he said that it was not at all clear that Jews were responsible, adding, “It is more logical that this has something to do with a feud between clans in Tuba.”

Villagers acknowledge that there have been blood feuds and clan killings in the village, as well as a crime problem. But few here believe that internal disputes would have led to the burning of a mosque, or explain the Hebrew graffiti.

Although Israel’s Muslim citizens are exempt from conscription, about a quarter of the youths in Tuba-Zangariya volunteer for the Israeli military, mainly for economic reasons, according to local residents.

The Bedouin soldiers serve mostly as trackers, helping defend the country’s hostile frontiers. Afterward, they say that it is easier to find jobs and that they are entitled to preferential mortgage terms and other benefits.

But for some, the wedge opened by the arson attack has exposed a latent sense of injustice and alienation.

Walid Heib, 37, said that if some of the elders of the village had not fought with the Palmach, there might not have been an Israel.

“It would have been better if they had not,” he said, “because now we feel like the strangers here.”


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