Eyewitness account: Bethlehem mosque torched by Jewish settlers

A mosque in the Palestinian village of Beit Fajjar, near Bethlehem, was torched at dawn on Monday by Jewish settlers according to local Palestinian authorities. One of the villagers witnessed the fire and tells his story.

Settlement construction has become the main sticking point blocking direct peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians. The talks, which resumed on September 2nd in Washington, were suspended on the 26th after Israel refused to renew a settlement moratorium. Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian authorities, has repeatedly threatened to permanently quit the talks if the freeze was not extended. He is expected to announce his final decision later this week.

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"Settlers are trying to provoke us, to foil the peace process"

Mohamed Choukry, 45, lives in Beit Fajjar. He helped put out the mosque fire this morning.

At around 3am this morning, a car carrying several Jewish settlers drove into Beit Fajjar. They sped towards the main mosque, but were forced to turn back because it was locked. So they headed to a second mosque, surrounded by houses, which wasn’t locked. They went in, set fire to the furniture and scrawled graffiti on the wall, with messages like "Destruction" and "This is your fate".

A graffiti reads "Burn Mosque" under a Star of David. Photos by Mondher Dereya.

Thankfully, a young Palestinian saw the settlers leave the mosque, and alerted the other villagers. We were able to put out the fire fairly quickly. Five more minutes and the whole building would have burned down. The mosque is still standing, but it’s darkened by soot. We think that the culprits fled to a nearby settlement called "Migdal oz".

We promised the Israeli army not to respond to this provocation ourselves after they told us they had arrested five settlers and are opening an investigation. We are trying to calm our young so tensions will not explode into violence. We know that settlers don’t want the peace talks to succeed or settlement construction to end, and that’s why they are provoking us: to foil the peace process."

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