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Israeli Settlers torch mosque in ‘price-tag’ attack


January 19, 2014 - Before dawn on Wednesday 15 January, Israeli settlers set fire to a mosque in the West Bank village of Deir Istiya, in the Salfit district. The attack came in retaliation for the public humiliation of several settlers the previous week, and locals say the culprits left behind identifiable information. The Palestine Monitor spoke with Nazmi Salman, former mayor of the village and currently a member of the municipal council. Before 4 AM, an elderly man who teaches in the village was making his way toward the mosque, in advance of the dawn prayer. When he saw that the entrance to mosque was ablaze he quickly called neighbors to the scene. The fire was extinguished with water, after damaging the doorway and the carpet inside....

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Israeli Settlers torch mosque in ‘price-tag’ attack

By Mike J.C.

Photo by Rabbis for Human Rights.

January 19, 2014

Before dawn on Wednesday 15 January, Israeli settlers set fire to a mosque in the West Bank village of Deir Istiya, in the Salfit district. The attack came in retaliation for the public humiliation of several settlers the previous week, and locals say the culprits left behind identifiable information. 

The Palestine Monitor spoke with Nazmi Salman, former mayor of the village and currently a member of the municipal council. Before 4 AM, an elderly man who teaches in the village was making his way toward the mosque, in advance of the dawn prayer. When he saw that the entrance to mosque was ablaze he quickly called neighbors to the scene. The fire was extinguished with water, after damaging the doorway and the carpet inside. 

The exterior of the mosque was also effaced with spray-painted slogans in Hebrew, including "Arabs out," and "Revenge for blood spilled in Qusra."

The hate crime came in response to an event last week in the Palestinian village of Qusra. On Tuesday 7 January, a group of more than a dozen settlers from the outpost of Esh Kodesh trespassed onto Qusra land and began damaging olive trees. They were apprehended by a larger group of local Palestinians, rounded into a small building and lightly roughed up before being handed over to Israeli army. Israeli press reports roundly condemned the violent settlers and praised the Palestinians for their restraint, preventing serious harm to the bandits and turning them over to the authorities. 

Photos and videos of the Esh Kodesh settlers, some with bloodied noses, immediately prompted fears that other Jewish extremists in the West Bank would strike out in retaliation against the Palestinians.

So-called "price-tag" attacks are a regular feature of life in the occupied West Bank. Whenever Israeli armed forces arrest violent settlers or demolish illegally constructed Jewish outpost buildings on Palestinian lands—rare measures compared to the number of violent attacks and illegal outposts and often carried out in response to Palestinian acts of resistance or diplomatic gestures made by the Israeli government—hostile settlers exact a "price" by targeting vulnerable Palestinian communities. 

Under international law, all Israeli settlements in the West Bank are illegal, but some, called outposts, are even illegal according to Israeli law (although they are often allowed to develop into state-endorsed settlements). 

According to the latest United Nations figures, settler attacks on Palestinians, including beating farmers, destroying land, uprooting olive trees, killing livestock, and vandalizing homes and mosques, have increased fourfold in the last several years, to nearly 400 documented attacks in 2013. That means that every day, somewhere in the West Bank, Palestinians experience acts of terror at the hands of Israeli settlers; indeed, following the last week’s outcry, Israel’s defense chief issued a rare public condemnation, calling such attacks by Jewish radicals "outright terror." 

Regardless of such a verbal rebuke, however, the attacks on the ground continue, often facilitated by the Israeli military, which escorts and protects settlers even as they violate the law, while tear-gassing and arresting Palestinians when they intervene or throw stones. The attacks are widely perceived as part of a larger effort by the expanding Jewish state, along with hundreds of home demolitions each year, to isolate Palestinian communities into smaller and smaller enclaves and pressure the occupants to leave their land.

According to Israeli human rights group Yesh Din only 8.5% of opened investigations into settler attacks result in an indictment. Israeli authorities often cite a lack of incriminating evidence to explain the low prosecution rate.

However, in Wednesday’s mosque attack in Deir Istiya, according to village official Nazmi Salman, the criminals left behind a crucial piece of evidence. Among the scattered spray-paint cans dropped at the scene, a cellphone was found on the ground. When it was turned over to Israeli police investigators outside the mosque, Nazmi says he approached an Israeli officer and told him, "You can’t say there is no evidence. This phone can identify the criminals."

It remains to be seen if the Deir Istiya offenders will be prosecuted, but Wednesday’s attack represents just one incident among a growing trend of systemic human rights abuses in the occupied West Bank. Until the international community takes concrete action to pressure Israel to respect United Nation resolutions and international law, Palestinians will continue to suffer racial and ethnic attacks aimed at isolating them and displacing them from their land.  



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