News / Middle East

Israel Tries Tougher Stance Against Right-Wing Jewish Violence

Scott Bobb

The Israeli government says it will take tough action against those who attack religious institutions or military installations. The warning comes amid rising violence by right-wing Jews angry at Israel's removal of non-sanctioned settlements in the occupied West Bank.

The 12th century Okasha mosque in central Jerusalem. Vandals torched it recently and spray-painted anti-Muslim, anti-Arab graffiti on its walls. They also painted the words, "price tag."

This is a signature of Israelis angered by the demolition of West Bank Jewish settler outposts, ruled illegal by Israeli courts.

The spokesman for Muslim holy sites, Mahmoud Abu Ata, says these attacks are expanding. "It seems that an organized Jewish group is systematically targeting the mosques and holy places, Muslim and Christian holy places," he said.

A half-dozen mosques have been attacked recently. There have also been attacks against Arab motorists and the head of an Israeli group that monitors West Bank settlement activity. In some instances, there has been retaliation by Palestinian Muslims.

Israeli columnist Danny Rubinstein says Israel's right-wing militants do not hesitate to use violence. "It's ideological. From their point of view it's very simple. 'We are stuck here as a small island in the middle of an Arabic ocean.'  For them, the Arab nation is stretched from the Gulf to Atlantic Ocean," he said.

Palestinian analyst Mahdi Abdel Hadi says it's hard for the Israeli government to stop the violence while it continues a policy of settlement expansion. "When you allow these people to take other people's land and homes and against the law and nobody is stopping them. And then they find themselves supported by the generals, the army. And this is the rise of Jewish fundamentalists and terrorist groups," he said.

But the Jewish attackers increasingly are targeting Israeli security forces who oversee the demolition of non-sanctioned outposts. They recently infiltrated the no-man's-land near Jordan and occupied an abandoned monastery.

Others threw stones at this Israeli military post in the West Bank, wounding a commander.

After a public outcry, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he would not allow extremists to spark a religious war. "There is no such thing as ideological crime, there is just crime. There are laws in the country. There is a government in the country. There is democracy in the country. No one is allowed to break the law. No one is allowed to attack IDF (Israel Defense Forces) soldiers. No one is allowed to harm Israeli policemen," he said.

He announced tougher measures against right-wing vandals but rejected a proposal to label them terrorists.

Since then, some suspects have been arrested and a few have been indicted.  But they have proven to be a stubborn group and few believe they will back down soon.

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