A Palestinian mayor has called for the end of pilgrimages by Jewish groups to a holy site in his village after Muslim graves were desecrated there
Ahmed Bouzia, mayor of Kifl Hares in the northern West Bank, said villagers discovered the desecration Friday morning after 1,300 Jewish pilgrims came there to pray with Israeli army protection the night before. Nine tombstones were damaged, he said - some broken and others bearing graffiti such as "Death to Arabs" and "Revenge."
Israel Edri, spokesman for the pilgrims group, criticized the desecration, adding that members of his group saw some suspicious people in the cemetery but were unable to catch them. They could have been settlers who sneaked in with the group or even Palestinians, Edri said.
Since February, there have been three large pilgrimages to this site, which settlers believe to be the graves of biblical figures Joshua and Caleb, Bouzia said. But smaller groups of armed settlers come more frequently.
Villagers' feelings were further ruffled when Israeli soldiers returned early Sunday morning with pilgrimage organizers to fix the damaged graves and paint over graffiti.
"This was desecration on top of desecration," Bouzia said, adding that Muslim graves can be repaired only by Muslims. The village leaders are planning to consult with Islamic authorities on how to restore the graves.
The village filed a complaint Sunday with Israeli police in Ariel, the Jewish settlement next to Kifl Hares. Bouzia warned that his villagers would confront future pilgrimages, and that this could cause "serious friction between the residents and the settlers."
In a statement released Monday, the army said the visit of the Jewish worshippers was coordinated in advance and most behaved appropriately.
"Unfortunately, a handful of worshippers chose to create provocations by damaging graves of Palestinians," it said.
The army said it viewed the event with severity and would evaluate further requests to pray in the area on an individual basis. It added that the restoration of the graves was carried out in coordination with the head of the village.
A dispatch from the frontline
Desecrating graves and morality