Netanyahu: We won’t let extremists spark a war

Netanyahu tells Likud meeting "the law is the law, justice is justice," says he won't let radicals "start a religious war, set fire to mosques, attack Jews or non-Jews."

boy studies near destroyed home, Mitzpe Yitzhar_311 (photo credit: Reuters)
boy studies near destroyed home, Mitzpe Yitzhar_311
(photo credit: Reuters)
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu vowed that Jewish extremists would not be allowed to spark a religious war, after a West Bank mosque was vandalized at dawn on Thursday.
“We won’t let them [Jewish extremists] attack our soldiers, start a religious war, set fire to mosques [and] attack Jews or non-Jews,” the prime minister told a Likud central committee meeting in Tel Aviv on Thursday night.
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A group of far-right activists is assumed to have targeted the mosque, near Ramallah, in a “price-tag” attack in retribution for IDF actions carried out at the same time, when soldiers demolished a home and a chicken coop at the unauthorized Mitzpe Yitzhar outpost near Nablus.
After they broke into the mosque in the Burka village, the vandals lit a fire in the women’s prayer section on the top floor. The blaze was extinguished before it spread to the rest of the structure.
The vandals also spray-painted red Hebrew words on an interior wall: “Mitpze Yitzhar” and “war.” Graffiti with the words “price tag” were written on the mosque’s exterior wall.
Later in the morning, angry Palestinians threw rocks at police who tried to enter Burka to investigate the attack.
“It was impossible to go inside,” police spokeswoman Nurit Tzemah said. “We had intended to collect samples from the crime scene.”
Police plan to either enter the village at a later date or use photos from the scene taken by the Civil Administration of Judea and Samaria.
Palestinians also stoned two Israeli buses, lightly wounding two child passengers near Ramallah and a woman on a bus near Kalkilya.
Separately, a 23-year-old Israeli was arrested by the IDF after allegedly being caught spray-painting graffiti such as “Nazi” and “price tag” on concrete blocks surrounding an army position in Samaria.
The incidents further inflamed tensions in the West Bank, which were already high after three price-tag attacks late on Monday night and early on Tuesday morning, in which Jewish activists vandalized an army base, assaulted two IDF commanders and breached the security fence with Jordan.
The price-tag attacks sparked fierce debate among politicians, rabbis and settlement leaders, with Defense Minister Ehud Barak calling for the extremists to be treated as terrorists.
Netanyahu rejected that call but came down harshly on the extremists. He ordered that they be tried in military courts and that administrative detentions be used against them.
On Thursday night, the prime minister was careful to distinguish between the pricetag vandals and the settlers as a whole, most of whom, he said, were “loyal” and “law abiding” citizens.
As for the extremists, however, he was less sanguine.
“We will act with a strong hand and make sure they’re prosecuted. The law is the law. Justice is justice,” Netanyahu told the Likud central committee.
“It doesn’t matter whether it’s people who attack our security forces in the Ephraim Brigade base or in [the Palestinian village of] Bil’in,” he said.
But in the Mitzpe Yitzhar outpost, located on the outskirts of the Yitzhar settlement, settlers looking at the debris of the small modular home that had been demolished at dawn said it was the IDF that had launched a war against them.
Settlers were careful to explain that they did not condone attacks on the army. They said incidents took place within a context in which the IDF was acting as if they were the enemy by destroying settler homes.
“They are trying to demonize us,” Yitzhar resident Yoel Noiman said as he stood by the debris of the home where a young man had hoped to start a new life with his bride in another month.
The people who live here are in danger from both the Palestinians and the IDF, said Noiman, who said he had been shot at by Palestinians three times as he drove in the West Bank.
When his children see a policeman, “they want to know, is this a good officer or a bad one,” he said.
After two or three nights of warnings, the soldiers sneaked into Mitzpe Yitzhar around 3:30 a.m., he told The Jerusalem Post. Activists who placed burning tires, barbed wire, stones and oil on the road leading to Yitzhar could not stop them.
Settlers learned that the soldiers were coming less than an hour before they surrounded the small caravan.
As Noiman’s daughter, Tiferet, eight, searched through the ruins, he described how the soldiers had sneaked up the hill on foot, through the adjacent Palestinian village.
Noiman had trouble reaching the home set for demolition because soldiers and border policemen kept stopping him. At one point they grabbed him roughly and in another they knocked his glasses off, breaking them.
Noiman said that he now wore a spare pair.
The security forces took almost everything out of the home and then brought cranes at around 5:40 to knock it down, he said.
According to Yitzhar spokesman Avraham Binyamin, the security personnel also destroyed a chicken coop. Roosters and chickens wandered loose through the debris.
“There were no significant confrontations or arrests,” police spokeswoman Tzemah said.
The state had promised the High Court of Justice that it would remove the two structures by the end of December because they are located on land classified by the state as belonging to individual Palestinians. Peace Now had petitioned the court to enforce the law in this matter.
The state, however, did not move against the other five homes at the outpost because, it said, they were on state land.
But Binyamin took issue with this. That land had simply not completed the classification process, he said.
“What is happening here is about politics and not law,” the Yitzhar spokesman said. All that is required to legalize the homes is the signature of the Defense Ministry, he said.
Palestinians in the surrounding villages build illegally, while the IDF selectively enforces the building code against Jews, he complained.
Binyamin noted that in the hours following the demolition, the residents had collected donations from Israel and abroad that would allow them to rebuild the home.
“We will build a second home there as well,” he said.
In Burka, Palestinians told the Post they felt they were under siege from both the IDF and the settlers.
Sayel Kanan, a Palestinian-American, said the mosque had been built seven years ago with money raised mainly from Palestinians living in the United States.
In a room that smelled of smoke and kerosene, he pointed out holes in the blackened carpet. A number of prayer books were also destroyed, he said.
Fuad Barkat said villagers first noticed the blaze when they came to pray at around 5:15 a.m.
“We put it out and prayed outside,” he said.
His brother, Zaki, the mosque’s imam, said this had not been the first time the village was attacked by Jewish extremists.
“It is very important to stop such attacks,” which have angered the village residents and could inspire them to acts of retribution, he said.
“People cannot be patient for ever,” he said.
Village council member Ahmed Moten blamed the government and IDF, which, he said, had done nothing to stop such acts of “terrorism.”
“We are sure the government is supporting these attacks,” he said.
It is as if Israel has declared war on the Palestinians, Moten said.
“Children are afraid to sleep at night,” Kanan said. The village’s olive trees have been chopped down by settlers in the past, he said.
His home was also attacked, Kanan said, and two cars were torched.
He showed the Post how vandals had sprayed-painted large red Hebrew letters on the walls of his home that said, “Vengeance on Arabs.” They also drew a red Star of David.