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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 20 June 2018

In West Bank villages, spike in 'price tag' attacks spreads fear among Palestinian residents

Graffiti, slashed tyres and even arson: these Jewish extremist hate crimes are on the rise

Palestinian children walk past a graffiti sprayed on a wall by suspected Jewish extremists reading in Hebrew "The Lord is gone, long life to the king, the Messiah", at Al Sawiyah village near the West Bank city of Nablus, 17 April 2018. Alaa Badarneh / EPA
Palestinian children walk past a graffiti sprayed on a wall by suspected Jewish extremists reading in Hebrew "The Lord is gone, long life to the king, the Messiah", at Al Sawiyah village near the West Bank city of Nablus, 17 April 2018. Alaa Badarneh / EPA

Jewish extremist vandals penetrated two West Bank villages overnight Sunday, scrawling hateful messages on buildings and puncturing the tyres of more than a dozen vehicles here as part of a wave of attacks against Palestinian property.

The raids took place overnight in Rammun village, near the West Bank city of Ramallah, and Beit Iksa, a hilltop village neighbouring the occupied East Jerusalem Jewish settlement of Ramot. Last week, threatening graffiti was painted on walls and tyres punctured in two West Bank villages near Nablus, Luban Al Sharkiya and Asawiya.

In the most serious of those incidents, on April 14, Jewish extremists set fire to a mosque in Aqraba village, also near Nablus. Residents were able to douse the flames, with light damage caused to the structure.

In Beit Iksa, resident and carpenter Mohammed Al Zahir emerged from his home at 6:30 am to find four tyres of his KIA Rio punctured and the four tyres of his VW Transporter also slashed. A Star of David was scrawled on the back windshield of the latter vehicle.

"The star of David means that they only want Jews here, that they don't want Palestinians in Beit Iksa," Al Zahir said.

"This can definitely turn into violence against people," he said. "I feel afraid for my children. I feel afraid to live in my own house."

He said Israeli police came, took pictures and wrote down the licence plate numbers of cars. "For sure they won't find them because it's Israelis who did it," he said. Al Zahir said he is troubled by the cost of replacing eight tyres on his modest salary. "I have a problem with money," he said in his simply furnished house with peeling walls.

At a neighboring house, the words "Administrative Revenge" were scrawled in Hebrew in big black letters. The phrase has also been found at other vandalism sites and appears to refer to the idea that extremist settlers will take revenge against Arabs for government steps against far-right settlers, such as placing them in administrative detention. In Rammun, the phrase "Price Tag" was scrawled on a building, referring to the idea that extremist settlers will exact a price from Arabs for any government steps against unauthorized settlement construction.

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On the shutters of storefronts, the infiltrators scrawled: "Make war on the enemy, not the lover". It was an apparent reference to the view of extremist settlers that the government is acting against them instead of against the Palestinians.

Saad Al Khatib, the head of the local council, said the attack took place in the dead of night.

"Settlers attacked the village. Their number is unknown since nobody saw them. People were asleep. People opened the door in the morning and were surprised to find the tyres destroyed and the provocative, evil and threatening slogans. Israeli coordination officers came, inspected and said they hope it is the last time."

Al Khatib said the attack was the fourth such incident in Beit Iksa over the last twelve months, the most recent being two months ago. It is a spate of attacks that has left residents scared for their well-being.

"This is a threatening action aimed at making people frightened so that they will leave. But we are steadfast," he said.

Zakaria Sadeh, a West Bank field worker for the liberal Israeli group Rabbis for Human Rights, said after Monday's attacks. "There is an escalation. This is spreading. Police come and investigate but they don't do enough to catch [the culprits]."

Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld says police are doing everything possible to prevent and respond to such attacks. "We're looking to see if there is any connection [between the Rammun and Beit Iksa attacks]. But we are treating them as two separate incidents, with two separate investigations. These are criminal incidents with nationalistic motives."

Right-wing Jewish extremists have long targeted a range of West Bank sites, including mosques, churches and Israeli military bases.

Israel’s domestic security service, the Shin Bet, released figures on Sunday that showed that Jewish hate crimes against Arabs in the West Bank had sharply increased in the first four months of 2018.

There have been 13 “price tag” attacks against Palestinians from January to April, almost a two-third increase of hate crimes compared to the year prior, when just eight took place.