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Shock, anger as arsonists hit Jerusalem Jewish-Arab school

JERUSALEM: An arson attack targeting first-grade classrooms at a Jewish-Arab school in Jerusalem sparked a wave of condemnation Sunday as months of racial tensions in the city showed little sign of abating.

The attack took place on Saturday evening at the Hand-in-Hand bilingual school which is a rare symbol of coexistence in a city fraught by division which has seen growing friction between Jews and the Palestinians, who live in annexed east Jerusalem.

Scrawled on the walls were offensive anti-Arab slogans in Hebrew reading “Death to Arabs” and “There’s no coexistence with cancer,” police said, describing the attack as a “very serious incident”.

Nadia Knane, the school’s headmistress, said one of the first-grade classrooms had been badly damaged by the fire, and said the attackers had tried to set light to the second classroom but it didn’t catch.

“After I saw what was written, I realised it was not just a fire. They wrote ‘Death to Arabs’ and ‘Kahana was right’ — words which have a lot of meaning,” she told army radio.

Meir Kahana was a virulently anti-Arab rabbi whose Kach party was banned over incitement to racial hatred but whose ideology still inspires loyalty among Jewish extremists.

“The school had been targeted several times in recent months but every other time was outside the school. This is the first time it was inside,” the headmistress said.

“The fact that they went into a first grade class is really crossing a red line.”

Outside the school, dozens of people gathered Sunday to condemn the attack, holding up banners in Hebrew and Arabic reading “Spread the light instead of terror”.

Speaking to AFP, Hatam Mattar, head of the parents’ committee, denounced it as “a barbaric attack” and Justice Minister Tzipi Livni also went to the school in a show of solidarity.

Late on Saturday, Education Minister Shai Piron released a statement denouncing the attack as a “violent and despicable incident, which could undermine the foundations of Israeli democracy,” and “a serious affront to the fabric of Jewish-Arab relations.”

In the past few years, the school — which has 624 pupils ranging from nursery age to 12th grade — has been targeted by a string of racist graffiti attacks, most recently during Israel’s 50-day war against Hamas militants during July and August. (AFP)

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