Israeli Settlers Torch Jerusalem Church, Spray Racist Graffiti on School

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Ultra-Orthodox Jews a school of Greek Orthodox Church that was set on fire by settlers in Jerusalem on February 26, 2015. Anadolu/Salih Zeki Fazlıoğlu

Published Thursday, February 26, 2015

Updated at 4:34 pm (GMT+2):: Israeli settlers set fire to a church-owned building in Jerusalem overnight, Israeli police said Thursday, hours before settlers spray-painted racist graffiti on the walls of a Palestinian school and two days after settlers torched a mosque in the occupied West Bank.

The vandals torched an annexe of a Greek Orthodox seminary just outside the walls of the Old City and scrawled "graffiti insulting Jesus,” police spokeswoman Luba Samri said, describing it as a "nationalist" attack.

There were no casualties and the fire was put out before causing significant damage, she added.
On Wednesday, a mosque near Bethlehem in the southern West Bank was set alight and anti-Arab slogans in Hebrew sprayed on a nearby wall.

Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erakat described the perpetrators of both incidents as "terrorists,” blaming Israel's government for inciting the attacks by continuing its "illegal occupation and colonization (of the Palestinian territories) based on distorted religious claims."

The attack coincided with the 21st anniversary of the Ibrahimi Mosque massacre in Hebron, when American-born Jewish extremist Baruch Goldstein opened fire at worshipers at dawn prayer. The attack killed 29 people and injured more than 120.

In November, a group of Israeli settlers broke in and torched a mosque in the Palestinian village of al-Mughayyir near Ramallah in the occupied West Bank.

Witnesses said the settlers burnt 12 copies of the Qur'an, Islam's holy book, and set the carpets of the first floor of the two-story building on fire. Racist slogans were also sprayed on the walls of the mosque.

At the time, Palestinian Religious Endowments Minister Yousef Adeis said that the mosque torching was proof of "racist Israeli incitement" against Muslim and Christian houses of worship, adding that in October alone settlers carried out 110 separate attacks on religious sites across the Palestinian territories.

Also on Thursday, settlers spray-painted racist graffiti on the walls of a Palestinian school in the village of Urif south of Nablus.

Ghassan Daghlas, a Palestinian official who monitors settler activity in the northern West Bank, told Ma'an news agency that a group of settlers from the illegal Yizhar settlement sprayed anti-Arab graffiti on the school walls.

The perpetrators were allegedly affiliated to the Hilltop Youth, a group of notoriously hard-line Israeli nationalists who often live in illegal outposts in the occupied West Bank.

The group has been known to target Palestinians and their property.

Daghlas accused the Israeli government of "giving free rein to extremist settlers to carry out attacks against Palestinians in an attempt to win settler votes in the upcoming Knesset elections."

The incidents bore the hallmarks of "price tag" attacks — a euphemism for nationalist-motivated hate crimes by Jewish extremists, which generally target Palestinians or Palestinians with Israeli citizenship but have increasingly also hit Christian and Muslim places of worship.

Hate crimes by Israeli settlers against Palestinians and their property are systematic and often abetted by Israeli authorities, who rarely intervene in the violent attacks or prosecute the perpetrators.

According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), there have been 2,100 Zionist settler violence attacks in the past eight years. The number quadrupled from 115 in 2006 to 399 in 2013.

More than 600,000 Israeli settlers, soaring from 189,000 in 1989, live in settlements across the West Bank and occupied East Jerusalem, in contravention of international law.

The roots of the Israel-Palestine conflict date back to 1917, when the British government, in the now-infamous Balfour Declaration, called for "the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people."

As a result, some 700,000 Palestinians fled their homes, or were forcibly expelled, while hundreds of Palestinian villages and cities were razed to the ground by invading Zionist forces.
Israel then occupied East Jerusalem and the West Bank during the 1967 Middle East War. It later annexed the holy city in 1980, claiming it as the capital of the self-proclaimed Zionist state — a move never recognized by the international community.

(AFP, Ma’an, Al-Akhbar)


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