Attacks spark calls for Israeli crackdown on Jewish extremists

Attacks spark calls for Israeli crackdown on Jewish extremists

JERUSALEM-Agence France-Presse
Attacks spark calls for Israeli crackdown on Jewish extremists

AFP photo

Israel faced mounting pressure on Aug. 2 to crack down on Jewish extremists after a firebombing that killed a Palestinian child and the stabbing of six Gay Pride marchers drew widespread outrage.

Firebombing of a Palestinian family’s home in the West Bank by suspected Jewish settlers on July 31 has further inflamed tensions between Israelis and Palestinians, with clashes breaking out in various cities.

The stabbings at the Gay Pride march in Jerusalem on July 30 night has also put a spotlight on Jewish extremists, with an ultra-Orthodox man accused of carrying out the violence only weeks after being released from prison for a similar attack.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has firmly condemned both attacks and called the firebombing “terrorism,” a word usually used by Israelis to refer to violence by Palestinians. On Aug. 2, he spoke of “zero tolerance” for such acts.

But despite the prime minister’s strong words, many have accused his government of failing to address the problem of Jewish extremism and of going dangerously far in its support for right-wing settler groups.

“Those who incite against Israel’s Arab citizens should not be surprised when churches and mosques are set on fire, and when finally a baby is burned in the middle of the night,” former president Shimon Peres said in a speech at an anti-violence rally in Tel Aviv on Saturday night.     

His comments were seen as at least partly directed at Netanyahu, who on election day in March caused outrage when he warned that Arabs were being mobilized “in droves” to the ballot boxes.

Last week, Education Minister Naftali Bennett addressed protesters at a West Bank outpost where settlers clashed with police when authorities moved in to seize two buildings ruled illegal by the Israeli High Court.

On the same day demolition of the two unfinished buildings began, Netanyahu, who has only a one-seat majority in parliament, approved the immediate construction of 300 new homes in the same area.

While Netanyahu and others have sought to avoid further escalation since the arson attack, no arrests have been announced.

The firebombing in the village of Duma which killed the 18-month-old child also left his parents and four-year-old brother critically wounded.  The family’s small brick and cement home was gutted by fire, while a Jewish Star of David was spray-painted on a wall along with the words “revenge” and “long live the Messiah.”

The graffiti was indicative of so-called “price tag” violence, nationalist-motivated hate crimes by Jewish extremists. Some have speculated that the attack was revenge for the demolition of the two buildings last week.

On Aug. 2, Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon authorized the use of a controversial detention procedure for suspects in the firebombing generally reserved for Palestinians.