Mosque in northern West Bank torched in apparent anti-Arab hate crime

Aqraba residents believe they were targeted with ‘revenge’ and ‘death’ graffiti because the killer of Israeli Adiel Kolman last month was from village

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US bureau chief

Vandals torched a mosque in the northern West Bank village of Aqraba before dawn on Friday in an apparent hate crime attack.

Footage captured by a security camera at the entrance to the mosque showed a pair of assailants setting the door of the building ablaze. Their faces were covered throughout the clip.

Messages of “death,” “revenge” and “price tag” were found graffitied on the walls of the Sa’ada Mosque in the small Palestinian town of several hundred residents.

“Price tag” refers to vandalism and other hate crimes carried out by Jewish ultra-nationalists ostensibly in retaliation for Palestinian violence or government policies perceived as hostile to the settler movement. Mosques, churches, dovish Israeli groups and even Israeli military bases have been targeted by nationalist vandals in recent years.

An imam at a mosque in the Palestinian village of Aqraba in the northern West Bank looks at the damage caused by a price-tag arson attack. (Zacharia Sadeh/Rabbis for Human Rights)

Locals noticed the fire almost immediately at around 2 a.m. and managed to extinguish it. Two sections of the mosque were torched completely, according to Rabbis for Human Rights field worker Zacharia Sadeh, who was present at the Sa’ada Mosque after the attack.

No injuries were reported in the incident.

Sadeh reported the suspected attack to the Israel Police, whose officers arrived at the scene along with IDF troops and began gathering evidence.

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Police said an investigation has been launched.

Locals told Palestinian media that the same mosque had been the target of a similar arson attack five years ago, but that members had managed to repair the damage.

They said that the attack appeared to have been in retaliation for the murder of Adiel Kolman, a 32-year-old Israeli father of four, who was stabbed to death in Jerusalem’s Old City last month. The terrorist, Abd al-Rahman Bani Fadel, 28, was shot dead at the scene. He had been a resident of Aqraba.

Adiel Kolman, who was killed in a stabbing attack in Jerusalem’s Old City on March 19 2018 (Courtesy)

The anti-racism group Tag Meir released a statement Friday condemning the arson attack “with disgust.”

“Since December 2009, 50 mosques, churches and monasteries have been torched or desecrated in the State of Israel, Judea and Samaria,” the NGO said, referring to the West Bank by its biblical names.

Tag Meir did not shy away from pegging blame for the incident.

“The extremist right-wing activists are asking for terror by igniting populated homes, houses of worship and cars, uprooting olive trees and vandalizing in order to frighten the Palestinian population and make their lives in the Land of Israel unbearable,” the statement concluded.

The Yesh Din rights group released a statement of its own, saying that it had documented 14 incidents of attacks on mosques in the West Bank since 2006. Nine of them were arson incidents (not including the one Friday), while five other sanctuaries were spray-painted with graffiti.

An imam at a mosque in the Palestinian village of Aqraba in the northern West Bank looks at the damage caused by a price-tag arson attack on April 13, 2018. (Zacharia Sadeh/Rabbis for Human Rights)

The left-wing NGO claimed that an indictment had been filed in only one of those cases.

“The fact that with regards to such a sensitive matter — the desecration of houses of worship — the police are still not able to gather enough information to lead to indictments is a badge of shame for law enforcement in the West Bank,” the group said.

“Yesh Din demands that the authorities act decisively to decipher these crimes and bring to justice those who committed them,” the statement concluded.

Palestinian Minister of Awqaf and Religious Affairs, Sheikh Yousef Adeis, referred to the incident as “terror.”

The phrase “price-tag” graffitied on the walls of a mosque in the northern West Bank village of Aqraba, remnants of an apparent hate crime arson attack on April 13, 2018. (Zacharia Sadeh/Rabbis for Human Rights)

“The Israeli government’s escalating behavior will lead the region to a religious war,” he said in a statement condemning the targeting of Palestinian churches and mosques by far-right Israeli settlers.

Last week, several cars were vandalized in the northern West Bank village of Fara’ata, near Nablus, in another apparent price tag attack.

Photos of cars with smashed windshields and punctured tires were posted on Palestinian media. This was in addition to various graffiti slogans that were sprayed across walls in the area. Messages including “Stop administrative detentions” and “Administrative price tag” were scrawled on vehicles and buildings.

Other messages found in Fara’ata said “God is the king” and “There is no place in the land of Israel for foreigners and enemies of God.” Other cars had the letter X spray-painted on them. Police confirmed the reports and opened an investigation into the matter, arriving at the scene to collect evidence.

Many of the so-called “hilltop youth” settlers have launched a campaign against the employment of administrative detention for suspects of attacks against Palestinians and non-Jews in the West Bank.

Administrative detention is also widely used against Palestinians and has been criticized by many rights groups since it allows Israel to hold detainees for long periods of time, without trial, and without being allowed to consult a lawyer or even knowing what they are accused of.

Last month, the Lod District Court handed down a five-year prison sentence to a settler teen convicted of membership in a terror organization, for carrying out a string of so-called “price tag” attacks against Palestinians and their property.

Illustrative: A Palestinian police member inspects the damage inside a burned-out house belonging to a key witness to an arson attack last year by Jewish extremists that killed a Palestinian family, in the West Bank village of Duma, after fire broke out in the home in the early hours of March 20, 2016. (AFP/Jaafar Ashtiyeh)

While Jewish Israelis have in the past been convicted of membership in terror organizations, it was the first time a Jew was convicted of membership in a terror organization for carrying out so-called price tag attacks.

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