Police, Shin Bet divert resources investigating ‘price tag'

Dialogue critical to maintain calm in North, says officer; communal strife following incident not expected; cops guarding mosques.

price tag 311 (photo credit: Tovah Lazaroff)
price tag 311
(photo credit: Tovah Lazaroff)
Major communal strife was narrowly avoided in the Galilee on Monday following an arson and vandalism attack on a mosque in a Beduin village.
The “price tag” incident spurred police and the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) to launch an extensive investigation and divert considerable resources to capturing far-right elements suspected of being behind the attack.
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About 300 enraged residents of Tuba Zanghariya – where many locals serve in the IDF – had begun a march to Rosh Pina on Sunday morning after heavy damage was discovered in the village’s main mosque.
Fire damage to inner walls, a burned-out carpet and burned religious books were found in the morning, as well as Hebrew graffiti that read “revenge,” “price tag,” and “Palmer” – a reference to Asher Hillel Palmer and his baby son Yonatan, who were killed in September on Route 60 near Kiryat Arba in the West Bank.
The furious marchers were blocked by police firing tear gas. After a brief clash in which rocks were thrown at police, the marchers dispersed.
At the same time, northern police district head Cmdr. Roni Atiya arrived on the scene and launched a day-long dialogue with village notables and local Arab officials to convey the police’s determination to bring the perpetrators to justice, to request calm and to ask villagers to come forward with eyewitness statements to assist the investigation.
Israeli police said a number of suspects were arrested following the incident. No further details were immediately available on the arrests.
As forensic evidence was extracted from the mosque and taken to police labs for analysis, police assembled a special task force made up of the elite Lahav unit and detectives from the northern district, who are working together with the Shin Bet to track down suspected far-right activists.
Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld told The Jerusalem Post that efforts at dialogue paid off on Sunday, and that police do not expect communal violence to break out in the North.
“I’m more than optimistic that we will capture those responsible,” Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch said while visiting the mosque. As he scoped out the damage, tears formed in the minister’s eyes. “They are causing damage to our fabric of life,” he said. “We are all brothers in the Middle East. An incident like this will not spoil our relationship.”
Addressing villagers, Aharonovitch said, “You are dear and loved people. Don’t let these criminals mislead you. My job is to capture them and put them on trial. I left a government meeting to come here and identify with you.”
Earlier, Aharonovitch called the incident a “criminal and despicable attack on a holy place.”
Police sources note this is not the first time that provocative vandalism was carried out under the banner of the far-right within the Green Line, and point to a similar incident that occurred in the northern Arab village of Ibillin in 2010 as an example.
At the same time, police are highly concerned by the possibility that such events could spark a major incident that could easily spiral out of control against the background of current regional turmoil.
In an effort to prevent any further attacks, police stepped up security around mosques and Islamic symbols around the country.
On Sunday evening, youths in Tuba threw stones at police and blocked the entrance to the village. They were dispersed by police with tear gas and stun grenades. Large numbers of police remain deployed in the village.
Police Insp.-Gen. Yohanan Danino ordered all police districts, as well as the police’s Operations Branch, to go on alert in areas with Muslim communities.
The police’s head of operations, Cmdr. Nissim Mor, ordered his officers to pool intelligence and map out areas where future price tag incidents could occur and to increase police patrols in areas with Muslim communities.
Last month, police announced the formation of a special task force to track down and arrest far-right extremists who were behind a string of price tag incidents on Palestinian mosques in the West Bank.
“These acts are so dangerous, and harmful on a national level,” Danino said in September. “They can result in an escalation, and this is the last thing the country needs.”