New York Times
POSTED: 1:30 a.m. HST, Jun 19, 2013
JERUSALEM >> The tires of 28 cars were slashed and anti-Arab graffiti was sprayed early Tuesday in Abu Ghosh, a quiet Arab-Israeli suburb of Jerusalem whose famous hummus makes it a popular destination for Jews and tourists.
The episode was the first "price tag" attack in Abu Ghosh, a Muslim-majority town with a number of Christian holy sites and some Jewish residents that many see as a symbol of coexistence. It came two days after Israel's security Cabinet expanded the legal tools available for investigating and prosecuting the racist, nationalistic vandalism that its perpetrators say they are exacting as a price for actions that they oppose by Palestinians or the Israeli government.
The security Cabinet declared the vandals a "forbidden" group but refused to deem them a terrorist organization, as law enforcement officials had requested. Micky Rosenfeld, a spokesman for the Israeli police, said that since the beginning of the year, there had been at least a dozen such vandalism episodes in the Jerusalem area, focused on Muslim residential areas or Christian institutions. Overall, Rosenfeld said, the police logged more than 165 complaints of racially motivated crimes against both Arabs and Jews in the first four months of the year.
It was unclear what in particular might have prompted the attack in Abu Ghosh, a village of 6,000 about six miles west of Jerusalem where the words "assimilation" and "Arabs out" were spray-painted near the slashed tires.
One of the oldest inhabited areas in Israel, Abu Ghosh was the rare Arab village to remain neutral during the fighting that led up to Israel's establishment in 1948. In 2010, it made Guinness World Records for creating the largest vat of hummus (about 9,000 pounds, served in a 20-foot-wide satellite dish).
"I saw this in the West Bank, I saw this in Samaria, but I never dreamed the extreme right wing would get to my home in Abu Ghosh," Khatem Ibrihim, whose tires were slashed, said Tuesday on Israel Radio.
"Why? Because we teach everyone what coexistence is," Ibrihim added. "My neighbor here is Jewish, and his tires were also slashed."
Condemnation was quick from both sides of the political spectrum. Shelly Yacimovich, the Labor Party leader who leads the opposition in Parliament, said such acts were hate crimes that hurt Israel's image as well as relations between its Jews and Arabs. Naftali Bennett, the head of the conservative Jewish Home party who Monday reiterated his opposition to the establishment of a Palestinian state, called the vandalism "non-Jewish" and "immoral."
"There is a group of people who seek evil who want to create a chain of hatred and violence between Jews and Arabs in our country," Bennett wrote on his Facebook wall. "A group that puts tools in the hands of our enemies in the world to blacken our name. We will not let them succeed."
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also said in a statement that the episode "contravenes the precepts of Judaism and the values of our people and our state."
The move by the security Cabinet, he added, will enable the government "to take strong action against those who perpetrate such crimes."
But Jawad Ibrahim, who sits on the Abu Ghosh Council, said he was not confident that the strong statements would be followed up with serious investigation or punishment.
"In truth, we know that the security establishment handles these people with kid gloves," Ibrahim said in a radio interview. "If the situation were the other way around, it would treat the matter completely differently. We don't delude ourselves."