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Vandalism in a North African City Prompts More Security at Jewish Sites

November 12, 2002
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Security has been stepped up outside Jewish sites in the North African city of Melilla after vandals attacked the small community’s cemetery for the third time in two weeks.

The attacks were among the most serious endured by the community of around 800 Jews, who have lived for hundreds of years in relative harmony with Muslims, Christians and Hindus in Melilla, a Spanish-ruled enclave on Morocco’s northern coast.

On Monday, local authorities posted an armed guard outside the cemetery gate as police searched for the vandals who bombarded the century-old burial ground over the weekend with rocks and paint bombs, damaging tombstones and shattering glass windows at the entrance.

Jacobo Wahnon, president of the Israelite Community of Melilla, said one of the windows appeared to have been struck by bullets from an air gun.

He said it was the first time he could recall that a gun of any kind had been used in violence against local Jews. He told JTA that the Jews of Melilla were shocked about the attacks against “a sacred place where our ancestors are buried.”

No one was at the cemetery at the time of the incidents.

Wahnon said he was encouraged with the local government’s commitment to increased security.

After an earlier attack last Friday, he was quoted by Spanish newspapers as saying “police should be trying a bit harder.”

Wahnon said hundreds of Melillans of all faiths have telephoned the community to express outrage over the desecrations. Leaders of the local government and of all the major political parties also have condemned them, he said.

Antonio Ramirez, a spokesman for Spanish authorities in Melilla, played down the anti-Semitic component of the cemetery desecration.

“This is a real barbarity, but it doesn’t have an ethnic or religious dimension,” he said. Nevertheless, he called it “an attack against the very co-existence” among the various communities in Melilla.

Melilla was established by Spain after the Jewish expulsion of 1492 as a fortress city on the North African shore. Its Jewish community has eight synagogues.

It prides itself on being an oasis of interethnic concord, though many young Jews are leaving for Spain and Israel against the background of limited economic opportunities and anti-Semitic attacks.

The city of 70,000 is about 35 percent Muslim. An additional 30,000 day laborers cross daily into the city from Morocco.

Ramirez said the attack did not fit in with a series of vandalism incidents committed since Sept. 11 by young Muslims in Melilla and also in Ceuta, another Spanish enclave on the Moroccan coast where about 300 Jews live.

Eggs, rocks and bottles have been launched at Ceuta’s Sephardic synagogue while worshippers prayed inside. In addition, Palestinian flags and graffiti backing Islamic terrorists was daubed on local synagogues and churches.

On Sept. 23, 2001, slogans praising Osama bin Laden and insulting Jews appeared on graves in Melilla’s Jewish cemetery.

When Jewish leaders and journalists went to inspect the damage, a group of young Arabs shouted anti-Jewish insults.

According to Guesher, a Madrid-based group that monitors anti-Semitism in Spain, suspicions at the time fell on a local Islamic extremist faction known as Badr.

At the time, however, Badr spokesman Abdelkader Mohamed Ali denied the allegations, saying the attack was “a barbaric action unfit for a Muslim.”

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