“Tomorrow is Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement. We ask for forgiveness of this desecration of God’s name. It is a desecration to burn a mosque and it is a desecration to burn a synagogue,” said Gadi Gvaryahu, director of Banish the Darkness, an umbrella group for 19 religious and secular groups supporting tolerance and pluralism in Israel.
They were received by village dignitaries with coffee and dates, which is customary for moments of mourning. Members of the surrounding Jewish communities also participated in the visit.
The words “price tag” were spray-painted on the mosque, which was vandalized Oct. 3. The warning has become the trademark of radical Jewish settlers who profess to retaliate for Palestinian attacks against Jewish settlers or the Israeli military for government operations.
The name of a Jewish settler and his son who had been killed a few days earlier in a rock-throwing incident were also scrawled on the mosque walls. After the lifting of a gag order on Oct. 6, police said they had arrested a suspect the day of the attack, and his remand into custody was extended until Oct. 11.
Mohammed Al Hib, national director of the Israeli Ministry of Education and a resident of Tuba-Zangaria, welcomed the visit of the 120-person delegation “in the full belief that destroying and burning holy places is against all religions.”
“We realize that Judaism is against this attack and we appreciate the visit and show of support for the local residents,” he said. He said the 6,000 residents of the village were shocked at the attack and could not understand why they were targeted, noting the village’s young men have voluntarily served in the Israeli armed forces since even before the founding of the state. The village has excellent relations with its Jewish neighbors, he added.
“This (idea of retaliation) is a disaster for life in Israel,” said Gvaryahu. “We want to tell the residents (here) that we are sorry and ashamed for what happened. We want to tell the Israeli community to wake up, that we are heading towards a catastrophe. Today they burn a mosque at night with no one inside, next time they will burn a mosque during the day with someone inside.”
He said that five mosques in the Palestinian territories and two mosques in Israeli villages have been burned by radical Jewish settlers in the past two years. Riots have rocked the northern village since the burning of the mosque and some 25 residents have been arrested.
The visit was mainly to ask for forgiveness from the village residents on the eve of Yom Kippur, and to express their shame and sadness about the incident, said Sarah Ozacky-Lazar, a member of the New Israel Fund international board, which helps fund Banish the Darkness. She said she was most saddened by the sight of burned holy books in the mosque.
“It is unacceptable that something like this should be done as if in the name of Judaism,” she said. Israeli President Shimon Peres and Chief Rabbis Yona Metzer and Shlomo Amar were among the many politicians and religious leaders who visited the village after the attack, condemning what Peres called the “not-Jewish, illegal, immoral” act.
“We remember when our books were burnt and we cannot abide such actions against any other religion,” said Metzer, who according to the YNet Israeli news Web site also called on non-Jewish clerics to follow suit and condemn Palestinian attacks against Jews.