Lawmakers from across the political spectrum denounced the suspected arson attack Saturday evening on a dual Hebrew and Arabic language school in southern Jerusalem.
“In this school, only a few weeks ago, the students declared with posters: ‘There is cooperation here, love and friendship between Arabs and Jews,'” wrote Justice Minister Tzipi Livni. “This is the nature reserve that someone tried to burn this evening. So it should be clear: We will not let extremists burn the co-existence that is still preserved. Law enforcement, and the Justice Ministry, will know how to deal with the perpetrators.”
Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat condemned the suspected attack on the school, saying City Hall won’t allow pyromaniacs and rioters to take the law into their own hands and disrupt the pace of life in the city.
“We’ll continue to denounce the radicals and do all that’s necessary to return quiet to Jerusalem,” he said.
Education Minister Shai Piron spoke out against the possible arson, saying it was a “violent, criminal and despicable act done to undermine the foundations of Israeli democracy.”
“Unfortunately, there are extremists who interpret the harsh debate in the Knesset around the Jewish state bill by taking the law into their own hands,” wrote Environment Minister Amir Peretz on his Facebook page.
Hatnua MK Amram Mitzna, chairman of the Knesset’s Education, Culture, and Sport Committee, said that “the attack aimed specifically at an educational institution that represents the desire of the two nations for bridge-building and education for peace is unacceptable, and we must condemn it stridently, and do everything possible in order to find and bring those responsible to justice.”
Firefighters gained control over the blaze at the Hand in Hand school in Jerusalem’s Pat neighborhood Saturday night. On the walls of the building, emergency responders found anti-Arab graffiti which said “Death to Arabs,” “Kahane was right” and “down with assimilation.”
“There is no coexistence with cancer,” read another tag spray-painted on a wall.
Initial investigation by the fire department found that the blaze had been set intentionally. Evidence from the scene was handed over to police investigators.
No injuries were reported, but serious damage was caused to one of the classrooms, and several walls of the structure suffered minor damage as well, Israel Radio reported.
Police were at the scene of the fire and were investigating the background of the incident.
The five Hand in Hand schools across the country educate over 1,000 students and aim to “create a strong, inclusive, shared society in Israel” through bilingual education in Hebrew and Arabic, and with integrated classes.
The head of the school, Shuli Dichter, told Israel Radio that Saturday’s incident wasn’t the first, but that vandals won’t succeeed in destroying the school. Dichter called on the public not only to condemn the act but to join in building Jewish-Arab cooperation in Israel.
Saturday’s incident came amid heightened tensions in the capital between its Jewish and Arab residents following multiple deadly Palestinian terrorist attacks targeting Israeli civilians and amid friction over the status of the Temple Mount.
The suspected arson attack occurred shortly before a demonstration outside the Prime Minister’s Residence in Jerusalem, at which protesters denounced growing racism in Israel, and voiced their opposition to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s proposed “Jewish state” legislation. An estimated 2,000 people, including representatives of Labor, Meretz and Peace Now, participated in the protest.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.