Unknown suspects fired shots and threw stun grenades early Monday morning in two separate incidents in the northern town of Mughar, a mixed Druse, Muslim and Christian village.
The incidents came two days after police officer Hail Stawi, 30, a Mughar native, was killed by Israeli-Arab attackers near the Temple Mount compound, sparking fears that the violence was retaliation for Stawi’s death.
“We are checking all possibilities – whether it’s related to the officer who was killed, or a price-tag attack, or something criminal that has no connection – all lines are being investigated,” Northern District police spokeswoman Lea Leshem told The Jerusalem Post.
The first incident occurred early Monday morning, when a stun grenade was thrown at a mosque in the northern part of the town. Later, at approximately 3:30 a.m., shots were fired at a mosque in the east of the city, police said.
Police officers opened an investigation into the incident and remained in the town throughout Monday to help maintain calm, Leshem said.
Police have not identified any suspects.
Nestled in the hills west of the Sea of Galilee, Mughar is home to around 21,000 people. The majority (58%) are Druse, and the remaining residents are split nearly evenly between Christians and Muslims, according to a 2014 report by the Central Bureau of Statistics.
Tensions between the Druse and Muslim communities periodically rise, as they often stand on opposite sides of the Israeli- Palestinian conflict. While the minority of Druse – those living on the Golan Heights – consider themselves Syrian, the majority of the Israel’s Druse join the IDF, and many serve in the Israel Police. Because of their Arabic-language skills, Druse police officers, like the two killed on Friday, are essential to enforcing Israeli control around sensitive areas, including the Temple Mount complex, home to al-Aksa mosque, in Jerusalem.
On Sunday, as Israeli police installed a series of metal detectors around the Temple Mount complex, sparking protests from east Jerusalem Arabs, a Druse officer was the middleman, translating police directives to officials from the Wakf Muslim religious trust, which oversees the compound.
“In 1956, the government of Israel decided that Druse should face mandatory conscription to the IDF. They were given their own religious courts and their own education system,” said Itamar Radai, a research fellow at the Moshe Dayan Center and academic director of the Konrad Adenauer Program for Jewish- Arab Cooperation. “This left the Druse community largely separated from the Arab community in Israel. Many do not even identify as Arab; they identify as solely Druse.”
Muslim citizens of Israel overwhelmingly do not join the IDF and tend to oppose government actions in the West Bank and east Jerusalem. In Umm el-Fahm, the hometown of the three attackers who killed the Druse officers, residents widely condemned the attacks, but some sympathized with the accusation that “al-Aksa is in danger” from efforts by Israel to change the “status quo” in the area. Israeli officials deny such accusations.
Some members of the Druse community, such as Rafik Halabi, mayor of the northern Druse town of Daliat al-Carmel, are upset by what they see as a tepid response from Arab Knesset members to condemn the killing of the two officers.
“I think what the [Arab MKs] did was a big mistake,” Halabi said in phone interview. “They need to come out against every attack, Druse or not, without conditions, and not say that it’s because of the ‘occupation’ or this or that.”
“The attack, of course, has an influence; two officers were killed.... But on the main level, we have great relations,” Halabi said of his Muslim neighbors.
Radai added that social media networks were awash with anger from Druse community members toward Muslim citizens.
MKs from the majority Israeli- Arab Joint List party did condemn the violence. However, they also emphasized Israel’s military control of the West Bank and control over east Jerusalem as part of the problem.
“The occupation should be ended in order to save human life,” MK Ahmad Tibi said in a statement.
Some MKs, such as Joint List leader Ayman Odeh, actively sought to quell any possibility of strife within the communities.
On Sunday Odeh met with Sheikh Mowafaq Tarif, the religious leader of Israel’s Druse community, in a bid to show solidarity and “resistance against any attempt at ethnic division.”
“Every national person, loyal and loving to his people, must stand against any sectarian division and emphasize the commonalities and closeness between the peoples,” Odeh said in a statement on his Facebook page