Arson suspected in South Hebron Hills synagogue fire

This is the third time in five months that the small stone prayer hall has been set ablaze.

By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

Arson is suspected in a fire that destroyed a synagogue in the South Hebron Hills on Saturday, the Israel Fire and Rescue Services reported Saturday evening.

“When we got there we saw a stone building whose entire contents were burning,” said crew chief Avi Desta. “We also found many tires that apparently were thrown inside to create a strong fire…. Luckily there was no Torah scroll in the ark [at the time].”

An arson investigator from the Fire Service has begun examining the site along with the Judean and Samarian police.

Hebron Hills Regional Council head Yochai Damri put the fire in context of Palestinian terrorism that has gone into overdrive in the area over recent months.

“They throw stones at our cars, construct illegal buildings in Area C, they uproot olive trees and seedlings and also burn synagogues,” he said. “We have to revive our deterrence here, and fast; sovereignty isn’t measured just in giving out speeding tickets, sovereignty is measured in control of the territory. I call on the security forces to investigate the fire and the desecration of holy books.”

Mitzpeh Ziv is mainly a pastoral observation point built to honor a Jewish family and a soldier who were killed in two attacks nearby on the same day in July 2002. First, Yossi and Chani Dickstein and their nine-year-old son Shuv’el were killed when terrorists opened fire on their car, and then the same group murdered First Sgt. Elazar Lebovitz as his car came along soon after.

An outpost was temporarily established there along with a communications antenna. The government dismantled the buildings but left the antenna.

In 2003, two men who guarded the antenna, Yehuda ben Yosef and Yoav Doron, were killed there by IDF troops who mistakenly thought they were terrorists. A memorial was then placed there to commemorate the pair.

For years, locals have come to the synagogue on Fridays and holidays to pray.

This is the third time in five months that the site has been targeted. In September, during the Sukkot holiday, a fire caused “hundreds of thousands of shekels of damages,” according to a supporter of the site from the nearby village of Maaleh Hever. An investigation at the time determined that arson was the cause.

Otzma Yehudit MK Itamar Ben Gvir said after that attack that “this time it was a building but in the future it could end in death. We cannot ignore it and bury our head in the sand, this is a … terrorist attack that must be dealt with, and I expect the police to find the guilty parties and jail them.”

Then, just three weeks ago, after the synagogue had been repaired and refurbished, arsonists poured flammable liquid on the building, put tires and wooden pallets against it, and set it ablaze.

Then, too, Damri had called for a deterrent response.

“I’m shocked at the hate crime of damaging IDF soldiers’ … memorial site,” he said. “The fire is a deliberate expression by the Palestinians against us and against our grip here. I call on law enforcement agencies to deal with harshly with Palestinian rioters who are crossing all boundaries.”