Occupied Jerusalem: An arson attack targeting first-grade classrooms at a Jewish-Palestinian school in occupied Jerusalem sparked a wave of condemnation on Sunday as months of racial tensions in the city showed little sign of abating.
The attack took place on Saturday evening at the Hand-in-Hand bilingual school which is a rare symbol of coexistence in a city fraught by division which has seen growing friction between Jews and the Palestinians, who live in occupied east Jerusalem.
Scrawled on the walls were offensive anti-Palestinian slogans in Hebrew reading ‘Death to Arabs’ and ‘There’s no coexistence with cancer,’ police said, describing the attack as a “very serious incident”.
Nadia Knane, the school’s headmistress, said one of the first-grade classrooms had been badly damaged by the fire, and that the attackers had tried to set alight another classroom.
“After I saw what was written, I realised it was not just a fire. They wrote ‘Death to Arabs’ and ‘Kahana was right’ — words which have a lot of meaning,” she told army radio.
Meir Kahana was a virulently anti-Palestinian rabbi whose Kach party was banned over incitement to racial hatred but whose ideology still inspires loyalty among Jewish extremists.
“The school had been targeted several times in recent months but every other time was outside the school. This is the first time it was inside,” the headmistress said.
“The fact that they went into a first grade class is really crossing a red line.”
Outside, scores of people gathered to express support for the school and its pupils and teachers and to denounce the attack, rallying under banners in Hebrew and Arabic reading “Spread the light instead of terror” and “No to hatred, no to racism, yes to coexistence, yes to partnership”.
Speaking to AFP, Hatam Mattar, head of the parents’ committee, denounced it as “a barbaric attack”.
Shuli Dichter, chief executive of the Hand-in Hand foundation, which manages five of the country’s seven bi-lingual schools, said it was time to change the public atmosphere in order to prevent such attacks.
“In the past months, we’ve witnessed... a wave of racism (that) is dangerous, even physically dangerous,” he told army radio.
The school is located on the Green Line separating west Jerusalem from the occupied eastern sector, and has 624 pupils.
In the past few years it has been targeted by a string of racist graffiti attacks, most recently during Israel’s 50-day assault on Gaza in July and August.