In recent weeks, “price tag” crimes, committed by right-wing extremists, have intensified in Israel. Those acts included burning mosques in the West Bank and spraying them with graffiti, setting private Palestinian vehicles on fire, breaking into an IDF military base and sabotaging army vehicles in the base’s auto-shop and leaving threatening graffiti at a left-wing activist’s residents in Jerusalem. While the police and Shin – Bet are investigating these incidents, last week’s signalled yet another red line crossed as price tag acts were committed within Israeli town inside the 1967-lines (the “Green Line”), and fierce condemnations were expressed from all sides of the political spectrum.
A mosque at the Bedouin village of Tuba Zangaria near Safed was set on fire and sprayed it with inscription such as “price tag” and “Vengeance” early last week. In the aftermath of the burning of the mosque many Israeli officials and public figures expressed their condemnation of the event, and of “price tag” activities in general. Some of them, however, expressed cautious skepticism and implied that the perpetrators might not be Jewish, while the identity of the perpetrators remained unknown. Later on, an 18 years-old Jewish man was arrested by the police for his alleged involvement in the arson.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke to Shin Bet chief Yoram Cohen regarding the “price tag” criminal acts, stating that “The images are shocking and have no place in the State of Israel.” He also issued a statement condemning the attack: “Netanyahu was outraged when he saw the photos and said the act went against the State of Israel’s values. Freedom of religion and freedom to worship are supreme values.”
President Shimon Peres visited the mosque with chief rabbis Shlomo Moshe Amar and Yona Metzger. “I am appalled by what happened here. Shocked to my core. This isn’t just against the law, it goes against the Jewish religion and against morals”. He said,”seeing what happened here fills me with shame. We will not accept it. There isn’t a single Israeli who isn’t ashamed by this… We all want to live in this country as citizens with equal rights, each of us according to their own faith. It is our duty to protect these places”. He added, “I came in the name of the faith that unites us all in the name of God Almighty and Abraham, to ask that on Yom Kippur such horrendous acts will be forgiven, and it is our duty to make sure that such things will not happen again.”
Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger added: “We, as Jews, remember what it was like when our books and Torah scrolls were burnt and we cannot abide such actions against any other religion. For us – a synagogue, a mosque, a church – they are considered embassies of God, and you do not harm embassies”.
Chief Sephardic Rabbi Shlomo Amar stated that the assault on the mosque was “blasphemous… and it’s an assault on all of our hearts. We urge all leaders to speak against terror – and such acts are acts of terror. We urged (leaders) to speak against hatred and for tolerance; to listen to each other, to understand each other and to accept each other with friendship”. Amar, emphasized that there is nothing more contrary to Judaism than this act. “Religious leaders and I are crying out so that the criminal will be caught and the police ought to treat him with the full extent of the law. This is blasphemy, desecration and violation of the State of Israel and all nations and religions.” Ammar finished his statement with the prayer “He who makes peace in the heavens, may He make peace for us and all Israel, and let us say, Amen.”
Apart from the chief rabbis, the President was accompanied by leaders of the Muslim, Christian and Druze communities in Israel. President Peres warmly thanked the Chief Rabbis and religious leaders who came together to the mosque to express condemnation and to show their support.
Internal Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch visited Tuba Zangaria as well on Monday in order to personally inspect the damage, and noted that “This sight is difficult to see. This was a heinous crime. Harming holy sites is the last thing we expected and the perpetrators will be found…they are destroying the fabric of our lives. We are all brothers in the Middle East. This incident will not ruin our relationship. Aharonovitch also spoke to the police commissioner, making similar statements: “harming holy places is a criminal and shameful act that cannot be ignored. We will act to bring those responsible swiftly to justice.”
Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin addressed the mosque torching and said that “burning a place of worship is a criminal and abominable act. These criminals, if they are Jews, are the main threat to the State of Israel in general and especially the Zionist movement.”
Religious Zionist rabbis also issued many condemning statements. Rabbi Haim Druckman, one of the most important leaders of religious Zionism, published a statement in which he outright condemned the practice. ”All activities undertaken under the title price tag are horrific acts, shocking, anti-Jewish and immoral,” he wrote. “I’m talking about those whose actions are titled ‘price tag’ and in the name of this thing they offend Arabs and damage property and harm the mosques. This thing is very negative. Is extremely negative in itself, because it is anti-Jewish, immoral and inhumane. ” in an interview he later added that in his opinion “price tag” actions are” an act of blasphemy. It’s a crime, just crime. “
11 Rabbis from towns and communities in northern Israel publicly also condemned the burning of the Mosque, stating that it is a serious event which they oppose vigorously. They wrote ” This act is inhuman, immoral and certainly does not align with the Torah of Israel, nor with Jewish law and values, there is no room for such acts throughout the year in general and in particular during the Ten Days of Repentance.”
The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) decried the mosque arson as well. ADL Director Abraham Foxman issued the following statement: “We join with the leadership and people of the State of Israel in expressing shock and outrage at this heinous attack. This act is a fundamental contradiction of the morals and spirit of Israel… as we have said after the attacks on West Bank mosques in recent months, Israeli society must do more. There have already been too many ‘wake-up calls’ about the violence and hatred among fringe groups of Israeli Jewish extremists. Israeli society must make clear that violence is never acceptable.”
Local politicians, Muslim clerics and representatives of Jewish communities also arrived to express solidarity. Yokneam Mayor, Simon Alfasi, stated “I came here for a shared conference held this morning. We condemn, no one would harm the holy place”.
Dr. Orna Simhon, Northern District Director of Education and wife of Minister Shalom Simhon, said at the meeting that “it is important to educate the young about living together. Tuba is a symbol for coexistence.”
Year- 10 students from Amit Kfar Batya high-school in Ra’anana organized a demonstration on Monday in condemnation of “price tag” activities. They arrived at Ra’anana Junction carrying signs that read ”enough with price tag crimes” and ”price tag – not in our school”, while drivers passing by have expressed support. Maor Vazana, one of the protesting students said that ”a lot of drivers honked and cheered us, we felt that most people who saw the signs despised those who carried out price tag acts”. Rabbi Kortzweil, the school’s principal added that ‘price tag acts outrage every person, every Jew, and every citizen in Israel, and are in contrast to Halacha and democracy. I am pleased that students did not just sit in class, but decided to go out and protest’.
In another incident, on Yom- Kippur (over the weekend) 25 headstones at Arab Muslim and Christian cemeteries in Jaffa were desecrated when sprayed with price tag inscriptions and slogans such as “death to Arabs”. In response, a molotov bottle was thrown at a nearby synagogue, causing mild damage.
Approximately 150 Jewish and Arab protesters gathered in Jaffa to demonstrate against price tag crimes and racism and for religious tolerance.
Tel Aviv- Jaffa Mayor, Ron Hulda’i stated after the event that ” it is unfortunate that on Yom Kippur, of all days, there are extremists who carry out such acts. I hope that the police will catch the criminals and bring them to justice”.
Chief Rabbi of Tel Aviv, Rabbi Israel Lau, condemned the desecration of the graves and said “this is a terror act which provoke intentionally the relationship between the residents of the neighborhood, the city and the state. The relationship between residents must be preserved above all and increase peace brotherhood and friendship, rather than alienation and detachment…This is not the way of the Torah to descrate graves of deceased and they can not protect their rest. We live on the razor’s edge and it was an incitement of hatred which holds great danger”.
Chief Military Rabbi, Brigadier General Rafi Peretz, urged yeshiva rabbis to condemn the phenomenon of “price tag” and act against it. In a conference attended by dozens of yeshiva rabbis and of heads of yeshivas, he said “the price tag phenomenon needs to be condemned fiercely. I expect heads of yeshivas to act sternly against this phenomenon.”
Chief Rabbi of Ramat Gan Yaakov Ariel and chief rabbi of Safad, Shmuel Eliyahu posted a joint condemnation of recent events: “We heard about the burning of the mosque and the desecration of graves. These actions are prohibited and in complete contradiction with the way of the Torah “.
President Shimon Peres commented on the desecration of the graves: “It doesn’t matter whether Muslims, Christians or Jews – it’s an act of vandalism, it’s a crime, it’s against everything that the Jewish people stand for as a country and as a democracy. We have to make sure that every citizen and every home will be a safe place, but we carry also a spiritual responsibility and a historic one. One which means that everyone can pray to the lord in his own language, from his own prayer book, and that every holy place is holy for all of us. We have to make it secure, safe and respected.
“I wanted to tell all our citizens, Muslims, Jews – because there were some attempts also to violate synagogue – and Christians, that it is the responsibility of the Israeli government to assure their holiness, to assure the easy approach to them, to assure the respect for every holy site. I am sure that our police will apprehend all the people who did this, the criminals, and we shall not let them walk free.”
Prime Minister Netanyahu said at a Cabinet meeting that “We have recently witnessed attacks on Islamic sites, a Christian site and a Jewish site – a synagogue was attacked. We are not prepared to tolerate any vandalism, especially that directed against religious sensitivities. The State of Israel is both a tolerant state and a very intolerant state.
“Our tolerance is toward religious sensitivities and our need to continue living together in coexistence and mutual respect, without violence, in tranquility and peace. Our intolerance is directed toward those who oppose these practices and this way of life. We will act with all vigor to find them. I have instructed the security forces to bring those responsible to justice. We will act against them to the fullest extent of the law.”