Last updated: 4 May, 2014

Settlers mob Israel police over probe of racist attacks

Israeli police looking for evidence linked to a recent attack on a mosque were mobbed overnight by around 100 demonstrators at a West Bank settlement, a spokeswoman said Sunday.

As concerns grow over the spiralling number of hate crimes by Jewish extremists against Palestinians and Arab Israelis — euphemistically referred to as “price tag” attacks — the Israeli authorities are coming under increasing pressure to tackle the phenomenon.

“Our forces were attacked by about 100 residents, some of whom threw stones,” police spokeswoman Luba Samri said of the incident at Yitzhar settlement in the northern West Bank, a bastion of hardline settlers.

She said police went to the settlement to search the house of a couple suspected of involvement in an April 18 attack on a mosque in Umm al-Fahm in northern Israel, in which racist graffiti was written on the walls and the front door was set alight.

Four Yitzhar settlers, including the couple, were arrested last week in connection with the attack after CCTV footage reportedly captured one of their cars at the scene.

Police said the married woman was released to house arrest on Friday while her husband was due in court on Sunday. The other two were released without charge.

Over the past week, vandals sprayed racist graffiti over another mosque in northern Israel and also targeted an ancient Christian church on the Sea of Galilee, damaging crosses and threatening clergy.

A Muslim graveyard was also defaced and two dozen olive trees were chopped down in the West Bank.

Earlier Sunday, a car was vandalised in the northern town of Yokneam and racist graffiti was left near an Arab village outside Jerusalem.

Such attacks were originally carried out by settlers to enact a “price tag” on Israeli moves to dismantle illegal outposts in the occupied West Bank, but the phenomenon has grown in recent months to an almost daily occurrence, alarming authorities.

Justice Minister Tzipi Livni told army radio on Sunday that she would meet with Internal Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch and top police and security officials to decide how to tackle the issue, with media reports suggesting the meeting would happen within days.

On Saturday, a former chief of Israel’s Shin Bet, which is responsible for internal security, challenged the agency’s willingness to tackle the matter.

“In the Shin Bet, the expression ‘we can’t’ does not exist, it’s more a case of ‘we don’t want to’,” Carmi Gillon was quoted as saying by public radio.

On Wednesday, the US State Department for the first time included mention of “price tag” attacks in its global report on terror, saying such incidents were “largely unprosecuted”.

But Israeli police challenged the finding.

“There’s no comparison whatsoever between criminal incidents with nationalistic motives and terrorist-related incidents,” spokesman Micky Rosenfeld told AFP.

“It is vandalism with nationalistic motives but these are not nationalistic attacks on Palestinians.”