A Jewish-owned building in Peki’in was the target of arsonists early Monday, raising questions once more about the safety of Jews in the ancient Galilee village, recognized for hundreds of years as a place where mutual respect reigned between the local Jews and Arab Druze.
The building, purchased by a Jewish resident of Ma’alot four months ago, was in the process of being renovated to become a hostel as well as a pit stop for soldiers. It is located next to a spring in the center of the Peki'in, which is located 10 miles west of Tzfat. Police said the arson was meant as a warning by militant Druze youth to other Druze and Christian families who would consider selling their homes to Jews.
Peki'in is notable for its place in Jewish history. The Zohar, the most important book of the Kabbalah, was written by Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai in a cave apparently in Peki'in, where he hid during the 2nd century to avoid persecution by the Romans.
Recent anti-Semitic violence prompted an exodus of Jews from the predominantly Druze-Christian village, primarily families who had recently moved to the village. The last of the nine Jewish families that quit the community held out until their car was torched on a Friday night, convincing them it was time to go.
Ruth and Abel De Jung, both of whom are Holocaust survivors, said when they left that they had moved to Peki’in from Holland “to live in a place where people of all religions live side by side.”
Elderly resident Margalit Zinati, whose family has lived in the village for centuries, remained.
Last November, riots erupted after Druze youths vandalized a cellular phone antenna in the nearby Jewish town of New Peki’in. The violence began when police entered the village to search for the vandals. Dozens of local residents and police officers were injured in the clashes, including three rioters who were shot.
Four Jewish homes in Peki'in were burned during the riots.
Photo: Ezra HaLevi
The De Jung car was torched December 1. Two days later, arsonists set fire to the home of a Jewish woman who had moved into the village the year before. The woman said after the blaze was extinguished that her home had been the target of several prior attacks and that she, too, had been harassed by local youths.
Druze youth in Peki’in also hurled rocks on December 25 at a bus of tourists visiting the nearby cave of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai. No injuries were reported, and police searched for the attackers.
Druze businessmen concerned about the significant drop in tourism following the attacks, and perhaps also embarrassed by the attacks by youths whose ancestors had lived in peace with the Jews for centuries, asked those who fled to return to the village.
However, there is a growing sector of the Druze community in Israel that is not as committed to co-existence with its Jewish neighbors as the previous generation.
One of the main leaders of the movement to shift Druze loyalties from Israel to the Arabs is Balad Party Knesset Member Sa’id Naffa’a, himself a Druze. He warned in an interview with Ynet last month that the traditional Druze alliance with Israel and Jews is changing.
“[Druze] people are beginning to realize that we are first and foremost Arabs,” he said, saying that discrimination in the IDF against Druze who traditionally served in the army has taken its toll on their unswerving loyalty to the state.
Naffa’a cited the Peki’in riots as evidence of the growing unrest among Druze youth. “Israel has always viewed the Druze as some type of domesticated beast,” he said, “but now this previously docile animal is fighting back.”
Police spokesman Mickey Rosenfeld confirmed that it is the responsibility of the Israel Police to provide protection for Israeli civilians in Peki'in. At the time of this writing, Rosenfeld did not have a comment on the situation in Peki'in saying that it would require further investigation.