Pekiin Ezra HaLevi

An arson attack in the ancient village of Pekiin has left one of the town’s last remaining Jews facing the demolition of his home. Asher Chazan’s house in the village suffered extensive damage in the fire, which he suspects was set in order to force him out.

Jewish presence in Pekiin, in the Galilee, dates back thousands of years, to before the exile from the land of Israel. Over the centuries, the village has become primarily Druze, but Jews, Druze and Arabs continued to live side by side in peace.

However, in recent years Jews have been the target of Druze anger. Major riots in Pekiin four years ago drove out the last permanent residents of the town. Chazan is one of the few remaining Jewish homeowners; he visits his house daily but lives elsewhere.

Several months ago, Chazan relates, a local Druze religious leader asked to buy his house for 100,000 shekels in order to raze it and add the land it stands on to a large space next to a Druze house of worship. Chazan refused, “I told him that for a sum like that, there’s no chance I’d sell to him.”

A short time later, his house was set on fire and badly burnt. “The glass melted, even the concrete ceiling began to warp,” he said. He suspects the religious leader who spoke to him may have been involved, “It could be that they hinted that the Jew’s house is a problem… Maybe they even gave some dumb kid a bit of money to do it.”

Now Chazan has a choice: pay 300,000 shekels to rebuild the home, or allow the regional council to have it demolished as a threat to public safety.

Chazan does not have 300,000 shekels. If police would record the arson attack as a nationalist attack in which Chazan was targeted for being a Jew, state insurance covered by property tax would pay for the repairs. However, police have refused to do so, saying the arson was carried out as part of a “dispute between neighbors.”

“I told them, if it’s a ‘dispute,’ fine, then find the people who did this. But they told me that when it comes to conflicts with the Druze they have an agreement: they won’t make arrests, and the Druze won’t riot,” Chazan alleged.

The Regavim movement, which is active on behalf of Jewish settlement in the Negev and Galilee, is trying to help Chazan keep his house. The group has started by pressuring police to find suspects in the arson, and plans to insist that police recognize the attack as “nationalist.” Every house that has been burnt in the village was Jewish-owned, they point out, making anti-Semitism a likely motive in this attack as well.

“The whole story of Pekiin is very sad,” said Meir Deutsch, Regavim’s northern district coordinator. “There have been Jews there for 3,000 years – and it’s under Israeli rule, specifically, that Jews are unable to live there.”