11 December 2009
Settlers set fire to the mosque of Yasuf village in the Nablus region of the West Bank on Friday, 11 December. The vicious attack was carried out in the early hours of the morning, after which the village was invaded by Israeli Occupation Forces, firing tear gas and rubber-coated steel bullets at distraught Palestinians, protesting the desecration of the holy site. Settler violence has seen a sharp increase this month with the Israeli government’s announcement to “freeze” settlement construction in the West Bank for 10 months.
The attack came directly after the dawn call to prayer at approximately 4:30am, when 4 residents of the notorious Tappuah settlement entered the mosque. Litres of gasoline were dumped across prayer carpets and copies of the Qur’an and dozens of other holy Islamic texts were pulled from shelves lining the wall. These too were covered in gas and set alight, smoke filling the mosque and blackening its walls. The settlers spraypainted messages of hate across the building’s entrance in Hebrew – “Price tag – greetings from Effi” and “We will burn all of you.”
As news of the attack broke in Yasuf, hundreds of angry and bewildered villagers gathered to march on the settlement. Their approach was cut short as they were intercepted by Israeli Occupation Forces, firing tear gas, sound bombs and rubber-coated steel bullets on the Palestinians, who were driven back to the village. The military followed them, 10 jeeps carrying 50 soldiers entering Yasuf, continuing to fire within the village. 8 residents were removed from the scene by Red Crescent ambulances, 1 shot in the leg by a tear-gas cannister, and 7 others – including the mayor of Yasuf – suffering severe respiratory problems from gas inhalation.
The army finally retreated from the village at 11am, but established a flying checkpoint at its entrance, banning entry to all but residents and local reporters. No international media or activists were permitted access until the following day. Friday, the traditional Muslim day of rest, saw residents of Yasuf conducting mass prayers in the streets as the mosque’s insides, charred, blackened, and reeking of tar, made it impossible to use.
The site of Tappuah, originally an Israeli military base, was established as a settlement in 1984. Home to only 100 settlers, its borders have expanded to swallow 1200 dunums of what was formerly Yasuf’s land. A road planned for construction between Tappuah and Ariel, to Yasuf’s west, will effectively separate the village from many more hundreds of dunums, easing the settlements’ systematic annexation and isolation of Palestinian land. What remains of Yasuf’s land today is regularly grazed by farmers from Tappuah, at times even uprooting or cutting olive trees, rendering their crops useless. Incidents of harassment and outright violence have escalated in recent years, seeing 7 incidents of car arson in the last month alone.
The desecration of the mosque is a serious development in what settlers have dubbed the ‘price-tag’ campaign – a co-ordinated backlash against Israeli government attempts to curb expansion of settlements – inflicted not on Israeli targets, but Palestinian. Settler violence has surged with the government’s latest alleged 10-month “freeze” on construction in West Bank settlements, seeing acts of vandalism and destruction on agricultural and private property in Palestinian villages. But the campaign takes on a new dimension with the targeting of a religious site, sending a powerful message – anything is fair game. But as Omar, a young resident of Yasuf says, “this is a place of prayer, not fighting.”
The destruction of religious items is illegal under Israeli law. Numerous national governments – including America, Israel and the Palestinian Authority – have condemned the attack, calling for the perpetrators to be caught and dealt a swift justice. Although the Israeli police and military have both stated they are investigating the incident, history has shown such incidents are rarely – if ever – treated with the same
priority as crimes against Israelis, and the perpetrators seldom identified, let alone held accountable.