The delegation, which included prominent left-leaning rabbis Menahem Frohman and Aharon Lichtenstein, brought with them around a dozen copies of the Muslim holy book as part of a solidarity visit to a mosque in Beit Fajjar near Bethlehem.
The visit came a day after unidentified vandals driving a car with Israeli licence plates drove into the village and sprayed Hebrew graffiti over the mosque before setting it alight in a pre-dawn attack blamed by witnesses on Jewish settlers.
Several hundred Palestinians cheered as the rabbis arrived in two bullet-proofed Land Rovers accompanied by a small delegation of Israeli soldiers.
They were met by the mosque’s imam and Bethlehem governor Abdul Fatah Hamayel who gave them a tour of the damaged mosque and showed them the burnt remains of several Quran’s which were destroyed in the arson attack.
“We welcome the Jews to Beit Fajjar so they can see with their own eyes the crime that was committed in this mosque, which was against humanity and against religion,” Hamayel told reporters.
“We welcome this delegation which is bringing a message of peace,” he said. After talking with residents and examining the damage, Rabbi Froman, who comes from the nearby Tekoa settlement, held hands with a Muslim cleric and they both raised copies of the Quran in the air.
“My belief is in peace and in God,” Froman told reporters.
“Those who act against peace act against God. God will defeat those who do things like this.” The attack came at a tense time, with peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians on hold over Israel’s resumption of settlement building in the occupied West Bank.
The Israeli military described the attack as a “grave and serious incident”and launched a manhunt for the perpetrators.
Defence Minister Ehud Barak dubbed it a “terrorist” attack aimed at hurting the chances for peace and dialogue with the Palestinians.
Hardline Jewish settlers have been known to pursue what they call a “price tag” policy under which they attack Palestinians or their property whenever the Israeli government takes measures to curb settlement construction.
Over the last year, there have been several attacks on mosques in the West Bank, with the perpetrators scrawling Hebrew grafitti on the walls and sometimes setting light to the buildings.
The Palestinians view the presence of some 500,000 Israelis in scores of settlements across the occupied West Bank, including annexed Arab east Jerusalem, as a major impediment to the establishment of their promised state.
The international community views all the settlements as illegal. The Palestinians have threatened to abandon peace talks that were relaunched on September 2 if Israel does not go back on its decision to resume building in the settlements. -AFP