Arsonists torch Christmas trees in Israeli Arab city

Huge Christmas trees badly damaged, but residents fix the trees and rededicate them later in the day.

By Paul Shindman, World Israel News

Christmas trees outside two churches in the northern city of Sakhnin were set on fire Saturday and heavily damaged, but the Grinch could not steal the Christmas spirit as residents and city officials worked through the day to restore the trees and held a celebration later in the day to turn the lights back on.

Security camera footage posted on social media showed two men riding in the middle of the night up to the site of one of the trees on an electric bicycle and stop. One of the men gets off and the two move out of the frame of the camera. A minute later the huge tree erupts in flames.

Sakhnin’s mayor Safwat Abo-Raya said all the residents of his city strongly condemned the arson in the predominantly Muslim city of some 32,000 in the northern Galilee area that has a sizable Christian minority.

“What happened does not represent anyone here, and Sakhnin’s unity is far stronger than any attempt to harm it. Next year we will have bigger ceremonies,” Abo-Raya told Haaretz.

The chairman of the Arab Joint List in the Knesset, Israel’s parliament said the attackers would not break the Christmas spirit.

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“Burning the Christmas trees is a heinous act that attacks the spirit of Christmas and the spirit of unity and mutual guarantee of Arab society,” Ayman Odeh tweeted. “We will rehabilitate the trees and make sure the criminals stand trial.”

The head of the Catholic church in Sakhnin, Pastor Araf Yemin, said the city’s residents were united and would “not give in to the attempt to damage the cohesion between them.”

“Whoever was behind the act failed, and the proof is the wall-to-wall condemnation on Christmas Day, which symbolizes the compassion and love among all human beings,” Yemin told the paper.

A police statement said the the force takes attacks on religious symbols seriously “and will use all means at its disposal to bring the perpetrators to justice.”

On Saturday evening hundreds of people gathered to celebrate with music and fireworks as the trees, festooned with hundreds of lights and decorations and topped with a five-pointed star, were rededicated.