Confusion, sorrow over Tuba Zanghariya mosque arson

Local Jews offer solidarity and condolences to those shocked and shaken by vandalism; residents say they don't understand why they were targeted.

Tuba Zanghariya residents pray outside bured mosque 311 (photo credit: Ben Hartman)
Tuba Zanghariya residents pray outside bured mosque 311
(photo credit: Ben Hartman)
Widespread confusion and despair gripped the Beduin village of Tuba Zanghariya on Tuesday, following the torching of a local mosque Sunday night – an act suspected of being a “price tag” operation by Jewish extremists.
“What I can’t understand is why us? Why of all places would they come here?” asked resident Dr. Muhammad al-Haib, in a plaza outside the scorched entryway of the al-Noor mosque.
RELATED:Police up security at mosques after 'price tag' hit 4 youths from Tuba Zangaria arrested for rioting
In a common sentiment expressed Tuesday, al-Haib said the people of the village are “completely Israeli” and see themselves as having a shared fate with their Jewish neighbors in the surrounding towns.
Al-Haib said the villagers celebrate Independence Day and do not identify with the “Nakba,” the Palestinian day that mourns the founding of the State of Israel.
Like others, al-Haib also expressed a sense of bewilderment and surprise at the suspected arson, rather than a desire for revenge.
“When this happened, people were very angry and asked: ‘Why us?’ We’re together, we’re not fighting one another here. We serve together [in the IDF], we live together, we’re very close. Somebody wrote ‘revenge’ on the wall, but why do you want revenge on me?”
Al-Haib, who serves as the Education Ministry’s national director for education in the Beduin sector, described the village as completely cut off from the greater Arab sector in Israel, with the closest Arab villages over half an hour away, much farther than Rosh Pina, only a couple kilometers away.
While the police investigation of the arson is still ongoing, it is widely suspected to have been a “price tag” operation – the name given to acts of vandalism or violence carried out by Jewish extremists following state actions against settlement construction.
In early September, mosques in the West Bank towns of Yatma and Quasara were vandalized with graffiti reading “price tag” following the demolition of three homes in the Migron settlement. No one has been charged in connection with those acts of vandalism.
Outside the al-Noor mosque on Tuesday, tables with dates and coffee were set up in front of dozens of plastic chairs, in a scene reminiscent of a Muslim “mourning tent.” In several of the chairs sat Jews from kibbutzim and towns of the surrounding area of the Galilee, who came to pay their respects and show solidarity.
One of those present, Yossi Shani of Kibbutz Amiad, said he has known villagers from Tuba Zanghariya all of his life – in particular during his army service when he said he knew villagers who served as combat scouts.
“We’ve had years of great ties with them and never any problems. When we heard that this happened, we wanted to show that we are with them,” Shani said.
Many of the residents of the village, made up almost entirely of Beduin from the al-Haib and Zanghariya tribes, had relatives who fought in the “Palhaib,” a unit of the pre-state military organization the Palmach made up primarily of Beduin from Tuba.
According to the Palmach Information Center website, and residents of the village, the head of the al-Haib tribe Sheikh Ismail Abu-Yosef entered a “blood pact” between the 400 members of the tribe and the Jews of pre-state Israel ahead of the War of Independence.
According to the website, during the Palmach’s “Operation Broom” in 1947, in which the military force carried out a series of raids to clear out Beduin villages between the Sea of Galilee and Lake Hula, Palmach commander Yigal Alon gave the command not to take action against the al-Haib tribe. Today, the road leading from the center of town to the mosque bears Alon’s name.
The town’s long history of service to Israel seems to make it a bizarre location for a price tag operation. This history of service is possibly most apparent at the local cemetery, where a state-built monument stands in honor of 13 soldiers from the village who fell in duty.
On Tuesday morning, rocks were still scattered in the roadway on the approach to the village and dozens of piles of scorched tires lay smoldering in the sun throughout town, the morning after residents clashed with police and border patrolmen.
There was a high police presence in the village, including a squad of police in full riot gear stationed outside the headquarters of the local council, which had been torched the night before when a group of youngsters from the village went on a tear vandalizing property and setting buildings alight.
With the situation still tense in town, a convoy of six police vans and a police water cannon drove around the village at sunset, looking for local youths suspected of acts of vandalism the night before.
Carrying an armload of files out of the scorched council headquarters on Tuesday, an employee who asked for his name not to be used cast doubt on the likelihood that the fire was a price tag operation.
“I think it was something between people within the village. Look at the graffiti; it doesn’t look like Hebrew written by a Jew.”
The employee also described the town as suffering from high levels of unemployment and property crime, and that while the majority of the residents are law-abiding citizens, “there is a small group of young people who cause a lot of problems.”
The interior of the al-Noor mosque was gutted by the flames, which also burned dozens of Korans stacked on a table inside the mosque. On a wall outside the front door, the words “revenge” and “price tag Palmer” were written. The latter appears to be a reference to Kiryat Arba residents Asher Palmer and his son Yonatan, who were killed in late September when their car was hit by stones and spun out of control on Route 60 in the West Bank. the graffiti, which was widely reported to have been "sprayed" or "painted" on the outside wall of the mosque, appeared to be written in charcoal, and was easy to wipe away with a wet finger.
Fuad Zangaria, the mosque’s imam said the damage done to the building is very severe, but “the damage is very extensive on our souls, our feelings, from the damage that was done to our religion. This is the first time something like this has happened to us before, so the anger is very powerful.”
When asked about the young people who burned tires and clashed with police, Zangaria said “the young people are mad not just about this [the mosque arson] or about the police, but about the entire general situation in the country in regard to relations between Jews and Arabs.”
In regard to why his village would be targeted, he said “this is the question that everyone is asking,” and added that people do not believe that the alleged perpetrators came from Rosh Pina, or any of the nearby Jewish towns.
Zangaria said engineers are still assessing the extent of the fire’s damage, but that when the renovations begin, he believes they will take around two weeks. He said the building did not have any sort of insurance policy taken out on it, but that money from residents and outside donors will cover the renovations.
“Insurance is not our problem; our problem is to find out who did this, who our enemy is. Our problem is to protect our relations with our neighbors following this.”