Price tag takes its toll

In Tuba-Zangariyya, residents repair their torched mosque, their mood still subdued.

Tuba Zanghariya residents pray outside bured mosque 311 (photo credit: Ben Hartman)
Tuba Zanghariya residents pray outside bured mosque 311
(photo credit: Ben Hartman)
Sheikh Fuad Zangariyya usually leads prayer at a mosque in the Galilee Bedouin village of Tuba-Zangariyya. But over the past month, he also organized dozens of volunteers who came to paint, lay tiles, and throw out the charred reminders of an arson attack in his house of prayer.
In early October, the An-Nur (the Light) mosque in the village was torched. Police believe the vandals were Jewish because of the words “Price Tag” scrawled on the walls, the signature of extremists who target mostly Arab property and holy sites in response to Israeli government actions against settlers or settlements, or in response to Palestinian terror attacks.
Four weeks after the suspected Jewish vandals torched the mosque, it has reopened. The walls are pristine and a patchwork of rugs covers the bare cement that was left under scorched carpets. Most importantly, the mosque is safe for prayer on Eid al-Adha, the feast of the sacrifice, one of two major holidays of the Muslim calendar.
“We said we will return to normal and return to prayer,” says Zangariyya. “This is what gave us the strength to fix the mosque.”
Like their mosque, residents of Tuba- Zangariyya say they are also trying to regain the routine and confidence they had before the attack. Yet as the arson remains unsolved, the attack reminds them of previous bouts of racism against Israeli Arabs and raises questions about the authoritiesʼ ability or will to protect them.
Yehia Heib, a pastry chef and baker, offers to host The Jerusalem Report for the holiday. He studied his craft in Jewish schools across Israel and regularly hosts Jewish visitors in the guest house he built above his apartment. In the bakery beneath his home, he sells traditional Arab sweets like baklawa alongside deep-dish pizza and cheesecakes.
Heib has seven children, including a daughter living in California. Like many of the residents in Tuba-Zangariyya, he has the last name of the Heib tribe. And like nearly all of the residents, he grew up speaking Arabic but feels just as comfortable in Hebrew.
Tuba-Zangariyya is the picturesque home of 6,000 Bedouin Muslims in a region of mostly Jewish communities. Laurel trees grow regally outside houses, along with colorful orange trees and gazebos strung with grapes and passion fruit. Tidy green garbage bins line neatly paved and painted sidewalks. Laundry hangs in cheerful lines from balconies. Few farm here, except for a few patches of olive trees. Businesses include bakeries, sweets shops, a schnitzel stand and small groceries.
Hours after the mosque was torched, President Shimon Peres visited the village, flanked by the two chief rabbis.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu also condemned the attack. And police increased supervision of religious sites nationwide, spokesman Yehuda Maman tells The Report.
Heib says, “Their response was exactly what they had to do.”
But he also struggles to understand the attack against the background of the village’s well-known loyalty to Israel.
Heib’s brother and uncle both died while serving in the Israel Defense Forces. “We have rights and [therefore] we must give back to the state,” Heib says. “But we also deserve to get.”
And so, even though Heib offers guests cups of strong coffee and dozens of chocolates from a holiday basket on the table, his Eid al-Adha lacks its usual joy.
His sister-in-law, Maitha, concurs.
“We usually wear nice clothes, take pictures and go shopping,” she says. “This year, there’s no real happiness and we don’t want to do these things.”
Eid al-Adha recalls when the Muslim patriarch Ibrahim – the biblical Abraham – almost sacrificed his son, Ismail, following Allah’s command.
At the last minute, Allah sent a sheep to die in Ismail’s place. Muslims around the world celebrate the holiday by slaughtering sheep, goats, cows and even camels.
In Tuba-Zangariyya, tractors bring three enormous brown calves to a stretch of road in front of a building supply store. Five or six men pull each calf out of the tractors and onto the ground. The slaughterer says a prayer, and makes one quick, lethal slit in each calf’s neck.
Sheikh Zangariyya gives a brief sermon to the 40 men watching the butchering. He explains that meat shared between rich and poor can serve as a bridge among people.
Amateur photographs document the process on cell phones and small cameras.
An assembly line of men at wooden tables breaks down the flesh into eight-pound portions. Later in the day, men from the village drop off a plastic bag of veal to every home. Mohammad Heib, 29, says the slaughter makes him feel a sense of solidarity with his neighbors. “It strengthens the ties in our community,” says Heib, as he snaps photographs to upload to Facebook.
Heib, the pastry chef, stays at the slaughter longer than he had planned, watching the butchers expertly skin the calves. “All the world eats meat,” he says. “But usually you go to the supermarket and you see filet mignon and entrecote nicely packaged in the fridge. This is what really happens.”
Khaled Zangariyya, a lawyer watching the slaughter, says he enjoys the holiday because it’s time spent with his family.
He lives and works in the Jewish city of Nahariya and visits his village once a week.
Yet despite the sense of community and pride in local tradition, Zangariyya says the mosque burning has put a damper on his holiday mood. He says it reminds him of his frustrating apartment search in Nahariya. Eager potential landlords would slip away when he said his name was Khaled, a distinctly Arabic moniker.
And the attack has changed the way Heib’s daughter, Jumana, views her Jewish customers at the graphic design office in Tiberias, where she works. “Before, I remember feeling OK with religious Jewish customers at work,” says Jumana, 24. “Now, I don’t feel like they want to speak to me and I don’t really want to talk to them.”
In the days after the arson , police announced they had arrested two suspects. Both were later released and to date, the culprits have not been found.
The residents have varying degrees of trust in the authorities and these differences stand out at the home of Heib’s father.
Abdullah Heib is nearing 100. The patriarch’s diminutive face nearly disappears beneath a white keffiya, or headdress, that hangs over an ankle-length gray plaid robe and matching suit jacket. Over the holiday, many of his 16 sons and daughters stop by his patio to pay respects, sipping bitter coffee and eating sweet dried fruit.
Abdullah says he trusts the police will find mosque arsonists. He thinks back to his own childhood, spent in rough tents, and says life has improved “thanks to Allah and the State of Israel.”
His sons and nephews think he’s naïve.
One grandson, Saleh, 40, is an engineer in the IDF. He gave only his first name because army regulations forbid him from speaking with the press. Saleh says that for more than a year, “price tag” criminals have burned West Bank mosques with few consequences. He sees deliberate neglect in the police’s behavior.
“Even if they find the person who burned our mosque, they’ll find a reason not to punish him,” Saleh says. “If a synagogue was burned in Safed or Hatzor [nearby Jewish cities], in five minutes the culprit would be found and punished.”
Police spokesman Maman vigorously denies the claims. Police investigation of the attack continues. And Israeli police have established a special “price tag” task force to eradicate the phenomenon.
Yousef Jabareen, a law professor at Haifa University and director of the Dirasat Arab Center for Law in Nazareth, says the government’s reaction brought complaints of hypocrisy. According to Jabareen, Netanyahu’s government has passed discriminatory legislation. He points to the Nakba Law, which cuts off government funding to organizations that commemorate Israel’s Independence Day as a day of mourning for Palestinians.
Another law allows small Jewish communities built on government land to operate admissions committees, which usually reject Arab applicants.
“On the one hand the authorities support racist laws in the Knesset, like the Nakba law, the admissions committee law and others,” Jabareen says. “And on the other hand, they use this rhetoric against attacks.” Jabareen calls the mosque arson “a dangerous escalation,” and notes that afterwards, vandals defaced Muslim and Christian cemeteries in Jaffa with Hebrew graffiti.
“The people of our community feel they are under attack,” Jabareen says.
Just after the holiday, police arrested Sheikh Zangariyya on suspicion of incitement to racism. He was released to house arrest three days later. Othman Heib,who as the muezzin bellows out the call to prayer from An-Nur, says the charges are baseless.
“Since the mosque attack, Sheikh Fuad has only been calming people down,” Heib says. “There has been no talk of racism. These are just rumors.”
The burning of the mosque has highlighted a general environment of anarchy in the village. The day of the arson, police arrested 30 local residents who rioted along the main road outside the village.
Heib says the police used excessive force – including tear gas – against civil demonstrators.
Police spokesman Maman says the protesters lobbed stones at police and threatened to burn fields and property nearby.
Soon after the arson, Tzvika Fogel, the mayor who was appointed by the government after a local election turned into a violent village-wide brawl, publicly suggested that perhaps locals had burned the mosque.
This touched off another round of fury, and the town council was set ablaze. Police arrested local suspects. The building is still unusable a month later. And as the council building burned, Fogel announced he would soon resign, telling Israeli Channel 2 TV news he longer felt safe in a village that had turned into a weapons arsenal.
“If the police do not come and deal with the amount of weapons and with this gang of people who make the whole village look bad, it will seep out of Tuba-Zangariyya,” Fogel said.
Heib, the baker, remembers two cases of murder in this year alone. And he complains that police have not done enough to collect illegal weapons.
Maman says the police have allocated 80 officers to Tuba-Zangariyya, and that they have collected hundreds of firearms and arrested dozens of illegal bearers.
“In every Arab village there are weapons,” Maman says. “In the last year, we have devoted a special campaign to this issue. It’s at the top of our priority list.”
Heib wonders if this is just lip service. He says he would happily point out weapons and gunrunners to police. “Where do these weapons come from? Where are the police?” he demands, rhetorically. “There is a certain political way of thinking that says the weapons in Tuba are for the people of Tuba. It’s not a problem for the Jews if Arabs kill each other.”
In the late afternoon, Heib goes to his bakery to sell pizza to hungry teenagers. He sells far more pizza than baklawa.
While Heib bakes, his neighbor, 38-year-old Kemal Heib – no relation to Yehia – is also hosting holiday guests. He watches a live broadcast of the haj pilgrimage in Mecca for glimpses of his father, who, like many Israeli Muslims, obtained government permission for the religious trip.
Kemal Heib says vandals in Tuba-Zangariyya torched his car one night just outside his house.
When Heib got a replacement, he quickly built a covered garage for it. All the residents of the village are turning their homes into walled fortresses. Older, lower stone walls are topped with hastily piled cinder blocks.
“Everyone builds a higher fence for quiet,” Kemal says.
“Once there were village elders whom everyone respected and who would solve problems. Now only the police can do it.”
A month after the arson, residents of Tuba-Zangariyya say they feel besieged by a Jewish majority without and violent crime within. But despite the frustrations, they also say they would not choose anywhere else.
Yehia’s sister-in-law Maitha Heib, 31, juggles her infant son Zein on her lap during a holiday meal of aromatic ground veal, humus and salads. She is studying Arabic instruction in nearby Safed. Her kitchen is spacious; she designed it herself.
Sometimes she and her husband Omar visit Jenin, a city on the West Bank, for shopping and doctors. The trips leave her feeling out of place.
“Our culture is different [than that of the West Bank],” she says. “Sometimes I search for words in Arabic. We work and learn and shop in Hebrew.”
Maitha Heib lives in two worlds. Her reaction to the attack reflects the state of her village. “We go to the army,” she says.
“We never opposed the government or threw rocks. [The attack] is strange and hard to digest.”