|Solidarity Delegation Visits Galilee Village Following Mosque Arson|
|Written by Ruby Ong|
The day before Yom Kippur, a convoy of cars with about 100 Israeli Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, and secular Jews drove into the Galilee village of Tuba Zangaria, where extremists had torched the mosque a few days before. The convoy was organized by the NIF-supported coalition Banish the Darkness, which combats religious racism. The scene at the mosque showed the pressing need to address rising tensions.
The smell of smoke still pervaded the building’s interior, the walls and ceiling were utterly blackened, and burnt Korans were stacked on tables. Scorched curtains hung from the ceiling, and the burnt carpets were covered with broken glass. In graffiti just outside the front door, the arsonists had left their notorious signature in Hebrew: “Price tag. Revenge.” This is the calling card of extremist settler groups who have been attacking Palestinians -- torching mosques and olive groves in the West Bank -- for over two years. They even recently vandalized vehicles at an IDF base. Now the phenomenon has crossed the border into Israel proper.
In the mourning tent next to the mosque, Bedouin villagers sat beside the Jewish visitors. “This is the sixth mosque that has been burned in the last two years,” noted Coalition head Dr. Gadi Gvaryahu, Director of NIF-grantee Yud Bet B'Heshvan. The Orthodox Jewish organization, named after the date of the Rabin assassination, fights religious intolerance.
“This time they struck in the middle of the night,” warned Gvaryahu, “but next time it may be a mosque with people inside, and then this whole land could become swept up in this madness.”
Approaching village leaders in the tent, NIF officials relayed that donors were offering to contribute to the mosque’s rebuilding.
“Please thank these people on our behalf,” responded Fuad Zangaria, the mosque’s imam.
The irony is that Tuba Zangaria is the opposite of a hotbed of Arab radicalism. Bedouin villagers fought “shoulder to shoulder with the Palmach” in Israel’s War of Independence, according to local educator Mohammed el-Heib. “We are among Israel's founders.”
Tuba Zangaria contains many connections to the state: 25% of the village’s young men volunteer for the Israeli army, the main street is named for War of Independence hero Yigal Allon, and the town's biggest building is the Yitzhak Rabin Sports Hall.
The hall was named after Rabin, el-Heib remarked, because “we don’t forget our friends.”
Rabin’s sister, Rachel -- who took part in the visit -- responded: “We don’t forget our friends, either.”
An Arabic translation of a rabbinical statement, initiated by NIF and signed by more than 1,000 rabbis, was read by NIF board member Dr. Sarah Ozacky-Lazar:
“We wish to express our deep sadness and outrage at the desecration of [the village] mosque,” read the statement. “We condemn this act as an affront to G-d and to the values of our Torah.”
Ozacky-Lazar told the villagers that NIF “is among the leaders in the fight to save Israeli democracy, religious pluralism, Arab-Jewish equality and the simple belief that we are all made in God’s image. In the name of NIF, I want to say that we are truly sorry for the horrible crime that was committed here.”
With NIF’s support, Banish the Darkness has developed programs for religious tolerance, currently in use at Orthodox Zionist schools and youth movements. Nine of the 19 groups who are members of the coalition are NIF grantees. They are committed to build an Israel that stands for everything the Tuba Zangaria arsonists want to destroy.
Postscript: The day after the visit, as Israeli Jews made their last preparations for Yom Kippur, it was announced that an 18-year-old former West Bank yeshiva student had been arrested for the mosque arson. Then that night, after Yom Kippur had begun, it was discovered that gravestones in the Muslim and Christian cemeteries of Jaffa, part of Tel Aviv municipality, had been spray-painted with the words “death to the Arabs” and “price tag.”
As Ozacky-Lazar said in the mourning tent:
“This is a time of year when Jews search their souls, and we have to ask: What have we been doing to prevent such abominations? Yes, we try, we work, but clearly it has not been enough. A new year is beginning now, and we have so much more work to do in this country of ours.”