Season of settler rampages

October 10, 2013
Sarah Benton

One of the damaged graves in the Protestant Cemetery of Mt. Zion, Jerusalem after an attack by settler youth. AP reports: Christian leaders in the Holy Land are up in arms over what they say is a string of relentless attacks on church properties and religious sites _ most recently the desecration of a historic Protestant cemetery where vandals toppled stone crosses from graves and bludgeoned them into pieces. Photo, October 7th, by Bernat Armangue /AP

Jerusalem cemetery attack strikes nerve with Christians

Protestant Cemetery of Mount Zion, one of city’s most important historic graveyards, vandalized by Jewish settler youths • Police arrest, but release, four suspects, two of them minors • “We are striving so hard to promote dignity,” says Rev. Hosam Naoum.

By Associated Press and Israel Hayom
October 10, 2013

Christian leaders in Israel are up in arms over what they say is a string of relentless attacks on church properties and religious sites — most recently the desecration of a historic Protestant cemetery where vandals toppled stone crosses from graves and bludgeoned them to pieces.

The attack in the Protestant Cemetery of Mount Zion, one of Jerusalem’s most important historic graveyards, has struck a particularly sensitive nerve because some of the damaged graves belong to famous figures from the 19th and 20th centuries, a key period in Jerusalem’s history. Among them are a German diplomat, the founder of an orphanage who was a significant contributor to modernizing the city, and a relative of the owners of a prominent hotel.

Though members of the clergy say interfaith relations between top religious leaders have never been stronger, and police have been more responsive to such attacks in recent years, they say attacks continue unabated. Some activists say not enough is being done to stop them.

“We are striving so hard to promote dignity and respect among the living. And here we have our dead people … vandalized,” said the Very Rev. Hosam Naoum, caretaker of the Protestant cemetery. “No human would agree with this.”

Police arrested four young Israeli settlers from the West Bank last week, two of them minors, in connection with the cemetery attack, said police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld, adding that the four were subsequently released without charge until further questioning.

Two of the suspects had been banned from entering the West Bank because of their connections to the “hilltop youth,” a movement of young Jewish extremists blamed for a spate of attacks in recent years on mosques, Christian sites and Israeli army property to protest government policy.

The four suspects claimed they had entered the cemetery to immerse themselves in a ritual bath there, according to media reports. Rosenfeld could not immediately confirm the reports, and the record of the court session was sealed because minors were involved.

Naoum said the reported alibi was suspect. An ancient Jewish ritual bath was excavated on the premises but it contains no water, and an old well nearby has a narrow opening and would be dangerous to enter, he said.

Naoum said his staff saw religious Jewish youths breaking into the cemetery again on Tuesday and Wednesday, though no damage was reported. Israeli media have said two of the original suspects were students at a nearby Jewish seminary known for its ultranationalist views.

Naoum said he is reporting the events to the German and British embassies, which have representatives on the cemetery administration board, as well as to the Archbishop of Canterbury.

The attack joins a list of high-profile Christian sites that have been vandalized within the past year. They include a Trappist monastery in Latrun, outside Jerusalem, where vandals burned a door and spray-painted “Jesus is a monkey” on the century-old building, a Baptist church in Jerusalem, and other monasteries. Clergymen often speak of being spat at by ultra-Orthodox religious students while walking around Jerusalem’s Old City wearing robes and crosses.

Christian citizens of Israel, including Roman Catholic and Orthodox streams of Christianity, make up less than two percent of its nearly eight million people. About three-quarters of them are Arabs, and the others arrived during a wave of immigration from former Soviet Union countries that began 20 years ago. Tens of thousands of Christian foreign workers and African migrants also live in Israel.

The population figures include Christians in east Jerusalem.

Over the past three years, 17 Christian sites in the Holy Land have been reported vandalized, according to Search for Common Ground, a nongovernmental group that monitors press reports of attacks on religious sites.

Researcher Kevin Merkelz said a police detective in charge of Christian affairs told the organization the numbers are actually higher, but Christian leaders chose not to report many attacks to the press.

“The Christians who are still here want to keep a low profile when attacked,” said Merkelz. He said the group does not include sites in the politically sensitive Old City of Jerusalem in its survey, because many sites are in dispute and the group does not want to be seen as taking sides.

Christian leaders are often afraid to complain to police because many clergymen reside in Israel on special visas and wish to keep good relations with authorities, said Hana Bendcowsky of the Jerusalem Center for Jewish-Christian Relations. “There is a very strong feeling that the police are not doing enough … and not doing work to prevent the phenomenon,” she said.

Rosenfeld, the police spokesman, said Israeli police recently set up a task force to combat “nationalistic” motivated crimes, and last week arrested 14 youths in connection with attacks on Arabs.

He said police are carrying out more patrols around holy sites and are considering installing security cameras to protect them. He also claimed the numbers of attacks against Christian sites remains relatively low.

“There is more awareness that holy areas have to be watched closer and protected better,” Rosenfeld said.

The Rev. Pierbattista Pizzaballa, one of the Roman Catholic church’s top officials in Israel, said such attacks “have become routine and target not only Christians. They’re conducted by extremists and go against the spirit of tolerance. But it’s also true that they’re strongly condemned by the Jewish community, by people opposed to them.”

Naoum, the cemetery caretaker, said a group of 150 Jewish religious figures will be paying a solidarity visit to the cemetery this week.

The cemetery is “a microcosm of Jerusalem history from the 1830s till the present,” said Amnon Ramon, an expert on Christianity at the Jerusalem Institute for Israel Studies.

Curiously, it is not the first time the Protestant cemetery has been attacked. About 100 years ago, the American consul to Jerusalem dug up graves in the cemetery belonging to members of the American Colony, a group of devout Christians from the U.S. whom the consul believed were involved in cult-like activities, said Israeli researcher Nirit Shalev-Khalifa. The group’s home later became the American Colony Hotel.

There has always been a religious fight surrounding cemeteries in Jerusalem, Shalev-Khalifa said.

“This is a battle over the celestial Jerusalem,” she said. “You can deal with the living, but sometimes it’s easier to deal with the dead.”

Settler rampage forces Palestinian school lockdown

By AP/ Big Story
October 09, 2013

JALOUD, West Bank (AP) — Masked Jewish settlers burst into a school Wednesday, vandalizing cars and torching olive trees during a rampage that forced schoolchildren to remain locked in classrooms to keep safe, residents of a Palestinian village in the West Bank said.

Fawzi Ali, a teacher at the school in Jaloud, said the settlers entered the village and began throwing stones. He said teachers locked classroom doors to protect the school’s 175 students as the doors were pelted.

The settlers smashed the windshields of several cars outside, and then lit a fire that burned through a nearby olive grove.

Jaloud is located next to a hard-line Jewish settlement outpost whose residents have clashed with local Palestinians in the past.

The Israeli military said its forces, responding to complaints in the area, discovered the school had been damaged along with seven vehicles. A soldier present at the scene was wounded by a stone. The military said it arrested four settlers as suspects.

Military spokesman Lt. Col. Peter Lerner said the army “frowns upon such grave actions, which destabilize the region and deviate security forces attention from their main mission — combatting terror.”

Palestinian farmer stands next to burnt and uprooted olive trees near Ramallah, October 2012. Photo by Issam Rimawi/ Flash90

Israelis attack school in Palestinian village, torch olive groves

IDF arrests four assailants from illegal settlement near Shilo, but pupils say at least 20 settlers involved.

By Amira Hass, Ha’aretz
October 10, 2013

A group of Israelis, seemingly settlers from the area of the illegal outposts east of Shilo, attacked a school in the West Bank village of Jalud Wednesday and set olive groves on fire.

Around noon, the arsonists broke into the village’s elementary school and threw rocks at the classrooms as well as at five parked cars belonging to teachers. At the same time, another group, or groups, set fires in the village’s olive groves. The Palestinian fire service, which arrived from Nablus, said about 400 trees were damaged. The combined attack succeeded even though army sources told Haaretz that IDF forces were reinforced in the area due to a heightened threat of violence.

Jalud is surrounded by the illegal outposts Esh Kodesh, Adi Ad, Ahiya and Shvut Rahel, which are only a few hundred meters, and as little as a few dozen meters, away from houses in the village.

On the militantly pro-settler Kol Yehudi Internet site, it was reported that the attack on the village was made “after the IDF destroyed Givat Geulat Zion in the morning,” an illegal outpost that was established two years ago and in which, according to the website, two families live.

A Palestinian tries to put out the fire in an olive grove in the West Bank village of Jaloud, near Nablus, Wednesday, October 9th, 2013. Residents of the village said that masked Jewish settlers burst into a school, vandalized cars and torched olive trees during a rampage that forced schoolchildren to remain locked in classrooms to keep safe. (Photo by Nasser Ishtayeh / AP

IDF sources said “upon receiving the report on the event, security forces were sent out and even managed to arrest four suspects, some during a chase.” A man who said he was responsible for guarding the area of the settlements called the chairman of the Jalud village council and told him, via one of the Rabbis for Civil Rights activists who were there, that four young men were arrested. On the Kol Yehudi website it said three youths form Adi Ad were arrested. But when speaking with Haaretz, students at the village school estimated that just in the attack on the school, at least 20 people participated, and they did not look like minors. The students said that when the Israeli attackers broke into the courtyard and came close to the school, the teachers quickly locked the classroom doors while children in the lower grades cried and shouted.

Area known for settler attacks

About 4:30 P.M. the smell of the fire was still n the air. In the schoolyard there were stones scattered around, but the owners of the five damaged cars had already taken them off to be repaired. The head of the local council, Abdallah Haj Mohammed, told Haaretz that he knew of at least one source of fire near Shvut Rahel, adding that the heat and wind drove the fire quickly up the slope. He did not know it there were other starting points of the arson.

Palestinian firefighters arrived after an hour while local residents had already started to put out the fires themselves. Some 45 minutes after the fires were set and the school broken into, Israeli police and army forces arrived. Residents said at first the soldiers tried to block their way to the olive groves, evidently out of fears the Palestinians intended to reach the illegal outposts. But when they realized the residents only wanted to put out the fire, the troops let them through.

The area is known for its large number of attacks by settlers against Palestinian villagers and their land. From 2001 to 2007, soldiers and settlers blocked Jalud residents from tending most of their land. In 2007 they were allowed to farm their groves, hard by the illegal outposts, but only in coordination with the army, and only twice a year for a few days each time.

Settlers torch 3 cars in Ramallah village

By Ma’an/AFP
October 10, 2013

RAMALLAH — A group of settlers torched three Palestinian cars in the Ramallah village of Burqa on Thursday, locals said.

Witnesses told Ma’an that settlers raided the village overnight and set fire to the vehicles. Locals could not contain the fires and all three vehicles were destroyed.

Two cars belonged to Netham Ali Maatan and the third vehicle to Muhammad Maatan.

Before fleeing the scene, settlers spray-painted “The redemption of Zion (Geulat Zion) loves Tomer Hazan” on the wall of the village mosque, in reference to an Israeli soldier killed in Qalqiliya in September.

An AFP correspondent said graffiti reading “Death to Arabs” was also found at the scene.

Israeli police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld told AFP that “a number of suspects went into the village of Burqa” east of Ramallah, “and attempted to set fire to three vehicles”.

“Graffiti was found at the scene,” he said.

Israeli forces and police arrived on the scene and have opened an investigation.

On Wednesday, dozens of settlers set fire to agricultural land in Nablus and attacked students at a local school.

Settler violence against Palestinian communities in the occupied West Bank is routine. Israeli forces, who have an obligation as an occupying force to protect Palestinians, rarely anticipate or prevent attacks from taking place.

Settlers torch olive trees, attack school in Nablus

By Ma’an news
October 09/10, 2013

NABLUS — Dozens of settlers set fire to agricultural land in Nablus on Wednesday and attacked students at a local school, a Palestinian Authority official said.

Ghassan Daghlas, who monitors settlement activity in the northern West Bank, told Ma’an that settlers from Shilo set fire to agricultural land in an area known as Mount Jalud.

Dozens of settlers then raided a school in the nearby village of Qaryut and vandalized five cars. The group also set fire to land in the village, destroying dozens of olive trees.

Palestinian Authority firetrucks arrived at the scene and extinguished the blaze.

Settlers tried to enter the village but were confronted by local residents, Daghlas added.

An Israeli security official said the military received a complaint that a school, seven vehicles and an orchard were damaged in an attack.

In response, the official said, four suspects were arrested.

Lt.-Col. Peter Lerner added that the “the IDF frowns upon such grave actions, which destabilize the region and deviate security forces’ attention from their main mission – combating terror.”

The Nablus region of the West Bank experiences a particularly high rate of settler attacks, with settlements built illegally next to Palestinian communities.

Settler attacks on Palestinians in the occupied West Bank are systematic and rarely prosecuted by Israeli authorities.

All Israeli settlements are considered illegal under international law.

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