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Arson Against Mosque Strains Ties Between Arabs and Jews

Arson on Saturday against a mosque in the Bedouin village of Ibtin, near Haifa, has seriously strained relations between Israeli Jews and their 700,000 fellow Arab citizens.

Israeli Arabs of all political persuasions view the arson, believed to be the work of Jewish extremists, as part of a larger campaign by the Jewish authorities to harass and intimidate the Israeli Arab minority.

The depth of the bitterness was evident when Haifa Mayor Arye Gurel and Meir Cohen Avidov, a former Likud Knesset member, came to a meeting of Arab leaders to condemn the arson and offer sympathy. They got a cold reception.

They then walked out of the meeting in anger when the leader of Israel’s Moslem community, Sheik Abdallah Nimer, commented that the burning of the mosque was no more an outrage than the demolition of illegally constructed Arab homes by Israeli authorities.

He was referring to the recent bulldozing of homes in the Israeli Arab town of Taiba near Kfar Sava.

Nimer added that any act against the Arab population in the administered territories was anact against the Arab community in Israel.

That open identification with the Palestinian uprising incensed Cohen-Avidov. “I came here to identify as a religious person with those who protested the desecration of a holy place,” he said.

“It is unfortunate that the stage has been used for wild incitement against the state.”

RADICALIZATION OF ISRAELI JEWS

But Israeli Arabs have what they consider serious grievances. They see the arson as evidence of the further radicalization of Israeli Jews.

The newly built mosque in Ibtin was not badly damaged by the fire. But prayer rugs and Korans valued in the tens of thousands of dollars were destroyed.

The Religious Affairs Ministry promptly promised to pay for the damage. But senior Arab mayors, Arab Knesset members and others decided Sunday “not to wait for the government to fulfill its promises.”

They announced the creation of a public committee to raise funds among the Moslem population to repair the mosque. They promised it would reopen for prayers on Friday, the Moslem sabbath.

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