Police probe vandalism of Jaffa mosque

Mosque doors painted with slogans which included "Mohammed is a pig," and "death to Arabs."

Al-Bahar Mosque anti-Muslim 248.88 (photo credit: Brenda Gazzar)
Al-Bahar Mosque anti-Muslim 248.88
(photo credit: Brenda Gazzar)
The Tel Aviv police opened an investigation Sunday into virulent anti-Arab and anti-Muslim slogans painted overnight on the front entrance of the Al-Bahar Mosque in the Jaffa port. The mosque's doors were covered in red and black spray-painted slogans, including "Muhammad is a pig," "death to Arabs" and "a real Arab man is a dead Arab man." Locals and Islamic Movement officials say the act was likely committed by extremist segments of the Jewish settler movement, a view apparently confirmed by one of the painted slogans: "No peace without the House of Peace," a reference to the disputed Hebron building evacuated of Jewish tenants earlier this month. Those who defaced the mosque's front doors "are people who hate peace, extremists," believes local resident and mosque member Amgad Kassam. "I don't want them to drag us into a situation like what happened in Acre," where local Jews and Arabs clashed in the streets in October. "We live in peace. We're neighbors with [Jewish] tenants and a Christian monastery. Jewish tourists come through here," said Kassam. But incidents such as the defacing of the mosque make community members question the motivations of the Jewish community, he says. "What they wrote, it's not easy. It gets encouragement when [Foreign Minister] Tzipi Livni talks about Arabs moving to the territories. It hurts." Zaki Igbaria, head of the Aksa Institute of the Islamic Endowment and Heritage, which is affiliated with the more radical northern branch of the Islamic Movement, said that "the policy of attacking" Waqf or religious endowment properties and Muslim holy sites was "a systematic policy of the Israeli establishment" and its branches. "These attacks began since the Nakba in 1948 and they haven't stopped until today, in which we find a clear rise in the cases of these attacks and crimes," he said in a written statement. However, Gilad Peled, the director of the Jaffa Development Authority and the municipal official in charge of the ancient mixed neighborhood, insists Jaffa's interethnic situation is not the tense powder keg that Acre's is. The mosque defacement was "an act of pure racism. To write on a house of prayer what they wrote has no purpose other than provocation and incitement," said Peled. But he was optimistic it wouldn't have a dramatic effect on the status quo in Jaffa. Unlike Acre's relatively segregated neighborhoods, "Jaffa is genuinely mixed," he said, "with Jews and Arabs living in the same buildings, going to the same schools and kindergartens. It's a day-to-day coexistence. And the Arab population here is characterized by its moderation and quiet ways." Nevertheless, he conceded, it was important to prevent and punish such acts before they succeeded in creating interethnic tension. MK Ibrahim Sarsour (UAL-Ta'al), chair of the southern branch of the Islamic Movement in Israel, called on the police to investigate the issue "deeply and quickly," bringing the perpetrators to court and ultimately putting them "behind bars."