x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Palestinians demonstrating at destruction of mosque met with police tear gas

Villagers say peaceful protest against the desecration of the Noor Mosque was met with Israeli police hurling tear gas canisters and stun grenades.

An elderly Israeli Arab man stands in a mosque in Tuba-Zanghariyya, in Upper Galilee, yesterday after the mosque was set on fire, allegedly by Jewish extremists. OLIVER WEIKEN / EPA
An elderly Israeli Arab man stands in a mosque in Tuba-Zanghariyya, in Upper Galilee, yesterday after the mosque was set on fire, allegedly by Jewish extremists. OLIVER WEIKEN / EPA

TUBA-ZANGARIA // For the residents of this Palestinian village inside Israel, it was not enough that earlier this week their mosque was vandalised and burnt, probably by ultranationalist Jews from West Bank settlements.

When they set out peacefully to protest against the desecration of the Noor Mosque, they were met with Israeli police hurling tear gas canisters and stun grenades. Israeli authorities said the demonstrators were making their way to the nearby Jewish community of Rosh Pina, an allegation they deny.

For the 5,500 residents of Tuba-Zangaria, it is a familiar theme. As Arab citizens of the state of Israel, they are first victimised by discrimination, then victimised again when they protest it.

"It all comes down to this: Jews and Arabs are not the same in Israel," said Haib Ismail, 30, an employee at a local supermarket. He watched Monday's events unfold and then culminate that evening when mobs targeted with rocks and firebombs the local council building, whose head, Zvika Fogel, a Jewish Israeli, was appointed by the interior minister three years ago.

"Here, the Jews are first-class. Us, well, we're second, maybe less," Mr Ismail said, adding: "You know, we're Israelis, too."

His frustration stems from years of institutionalised discrimination against Israel's Palestinian minority, who form nearly a fifth of the population.

They point out more recently that while tens of thousands of Jewish Israelis have been allowed to demonstrate over the high cost of living in recent months, authorities immediately quash protests by non-Jewish citizens. In the nearby Safed, on the other hand, the city's head rabbi last year urged Jews with near impunity not to sell or rent homes to Palestinians.

Fear that sectarian tensions could boil over prompted Israeli officials to immediately condemn Monday's attack, and included a surprise visit to the mosque by the president, Shimon Peres. It also motivated some Jewish Israelis to express solidarity with mourning Tuba-Zangaria residents yesterday.

Inbar Reshef, 19, who was part of a group of Jewish students from neighbouring communities who sipped coffee and tea with Palestinians in the mosque courtyard, said: "If we don't do anything, it will get worse - that's why we're here.

"We don't agree with anything that's happened here, and we have to change things," he said.

Israel's police suspect the incident to be part of a series of attacks carried out by extremist Jewish settlers, known as "price tag" operations, which seek to retaliate for demolition of settlement buildings in the West Bank by Israeli authorities.

Major General Ronni Atiya, the northern district commander, told Israel's Haaretz newspaper yesterday that several arrests had been made, but declined to elaborate. The magistrates' court in nearby Nazareth has issued a gag order on details of the investigation.

Such secrecy has led to growing suspicion of an attempt by the authorities to cover up the attack to prevent a further escalation of violence.

Ayman Zangaria, 31, who lives next to the mosque, said his neighbours physically prevented Jewish police officers from scrubbing the graffiti on the exterior shortly after the incident. The settlers wrote in Hebrew "price tag" and the name of a Jewish settler, "Palmer", who some believed was killed along with his infant son last month by a Palestinian-thrown rock while driving in the West Bank.

"It's because they're afraid of tensions between Jews and Arab getting worse," Mr Zangaria said.

He also complained that it took more than two hours for the emergency services to respond to the blaze, which several residents, including Mr Zangaria's father, had to douse themselves with buckets of water. "The fire station is only a 10-minute drive from here," Mr Zangaria said.

He and others said yesterday's demonstrations have brought the village's two main Bedouin clans closer together, and further away from the authorities. The two had been at odds over, among other issues, family members serving in Israel's military.

Members of both clans showed up to yesterday's mourning ceremony, however. Noor mosque's Imam, Fouad Zangariya, 30, said the community would rebuild with donations, including from local Islamic groups.

He vowed not to take any funds from the Israeli authorities.

"We want to maintain good relations between Jews and Arabs here," said Mr Zangariya, a bearded sheikh who volunteers at the mosque. "But we will move on and rebuild here without the Israeli government."

 

hnaylor@thenational.ae