Fears over settler terror attack

Israelis and Palestinians protest after the cemetery desecrations in Jaffa

Israelis and Palestinians protest after the cemetery desecrations in Jaffa

Racist vandalism spread from the West Bank and the north into the centre of Israel over the past week.

Although the latest rash of attacks began last week when settlers set fire to a Galilee mosque, security services do not believe that this weekend's incidents, which took place in Jaffa and Bat-Yam, were carried out by settlers.

While "price tag"-style, anti-Arab graffiti was found over the weekend on graves in the main Muslim cemetery of Jaffa, police believe that it was a copy-cat attack, carried out by a local gang, perhaps connected to a football supporters' group.

Meanwhile, around the settlements, tension was high this week as Palestinians began the annual olive harvest and the settlers prepared to oppose the Defence Ministry's plans to dismantle a large number of illegally built outposts after Succot. "I am much more worried about a terror attack by Jewish settlers than anything the Palestinians here are doing," said a senior IDF officer serving in the West Bank last week.

"Price tag" reprisals, vandalism and physical attacks have been carried out in recent months by extreme-right settlers in the West Bank against Palestinians and their property, usually in retaliation to the dismantling of outposts by the Israeli authorities.

Last week, for the first time, the "price tag" attacks crossed into sovereign Israel when a mosque in the Galilee town of Tuba-Zangariya was set alight. Two suspects have been arrested so far.

Following the vandalism at the cemetery in Jaffa, hundreds of Muslim residents held an angry protest on Saturday evening and, later in the night, a Molotov cocktail was thrown at a synagogue in the southern borough of Tel Aviv.

Condemnations by President Shimon Peres and Chief Rabbi Yisrael Lau did little to calm the atmosphere, especially when similar graffiti was found on Sunday in nearby Bat Yam. Arab leaders, including former Tel Aviv City Council member Rifaat Turk, blamed the Yeshivat Yafo, a national-religious academy that opened three years ago for "bringing in settlers and hatred to Jaffa".

On Sunday, settlers from Itamar, where five members of the Fogel family were murdered in March by two Palestinian infiltrators, tried to prevent Palestinians from the neighbouring village of Awarta, where the murderers lived, from picking olives in groves by the settlement. One Palestinian was slightly injured. Itamar residents claim that Fogels' murderers used last year's harvest to gather information on the settlement's defence system.

    Last updated: 12:34pm, October 11 2011