Over 50 Christian and Muslim religious sites were vandalized in Israel and the West Bank from 2009 to July 2017, only nine indictments were filed and seven sentences inflicted. The figures released by Israel’s Public Security Ministry, were published by Saint James’ Vicariate for Hebrew-speaking Catholics in Israel. A long series of attacks against churches, convents, cemeteries and mosques that is still ongoing: the latest attack took place on Wednesday September 20 against Saint Steven’s church in the Salesian monastery of Beit Jamal, west of Jerusalem. Attackers destroyed crosses, statues – one of Virgin Mary – and devastated the including some of the stained glass windows depicting important moments of the life of Jesus. The attack of September 20 was the third such attack against the monastery in the last five years. A firebomb was thrown at a door in 2013, while the walls were covered with slanderous graffiti. Approximately 18 months ago gravestones were desecrated in the cemetery. No suspects were arrested in both cases.
Figures show that the wave of vandalism peaked in 2013. That year 11 investigations were opened and 5 people convicted. In 2014 nine Muslim and Christian places of worship were desecrated. The same number in 2015. Only three such attacks were reported in 2016, but four acts of vandalism were reported in the first semester of this year. There were as many as 17 attacks in the period 2009 – 2012 but nobody was indicted for the crime.
According to the Tag Meir organization, created in 2011 to counter all forms of racism in Israel and monitor hate crimes, there were 44 attacks on Christian and Muslim sites between the end of 2009 and the beginning of 2016. The organization said that many arsons against mosques have never been solved by the Police. These include mosque attacks in the West Bank villages of Kafr Yasif, Luban al-Sharqiya, Beit Fajjar, Hawara and Qusra, as well as one in the Israeli Bedouin town of Tuba-Zangaria and some in Jerusalem. Tag Meir said that only two cases have been solved: the attack on a Christian seminary near the Abbey of the Dormition, Jerusalem; and an arson attack on the Church of the Multiplication of the Loaves and Fishes in Tabgha, on the Sea of Galilee shoreline.
“These are very high figures”, Msgr. Giacinto Boulos Marcuzzo, newly-appointed patriarchal vicar for Jerusalem and Palestine, told SIR. “There are also many unopened cases thus left unsolved by the Police. Indictments were filed only in few cases. That’s the most serious problem”,
the vicar pointed out. “What happened in Beit Jamal is even more serious. The perpetrators of this act of vandalism are still unknown. Whoever did it was motivated by the determination to put into practice an incomplete reading of the Old Testament. It was an attack against a very significant site in the history of early Christianity. Graffiti were scribbled on the wall of the destroyed chapel with the words: ‘forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing’”, Msgr. Marcuzzo said. It’s a clear message which perhaps is not even fully understood by the perpetrators who, according to the vicar,
are extremists who “won’t accept the fact that there are people whose faith is different from theirs. This is dangerous and scary.”
“Suffice it to say that they carry out the attack on the eve of the Jewish New Year, in a climate that should be one of joy and reconciliation for the entire community.” Similar episodes that have occurred in the recent past “were signed ‘Price tag’”, identified with Jewish extremists, but not in Beit Jamal, although the crimes are of the same kind. It clearly follows in the wake of this form of extremism”, the Vicar remarked,
Evidently they share the same hate mentality
that is spreading.” What is the answer to such deeds? For Msgr. Marcuzzo there are three: “First of all the Police must carry out investigations and give a strong answer in this respect. At the same time there is an urgent need to promote education in schools. Certain teachings need to be adjusted and improved.” The third measure is “to make use of all means of communication – the press, ecumenical and interreligious meetings, to spread the culture of reception and coexistence. If the Police did their duty, if schools advanced their teaching style and media outlets disseminated this message of tolerance and respect, the situation would improve. Something is already being done especially at interreligious level between Israel and the Holy See and between Israel and the Catholic Church, but a lot still needs to be done and there remains widespread ignorance on the progress made in the area of mutual dialogue.” Unfortunately, concluded Msgr. Marcuzzo, this widespread climate of hatred escalates into attacks such as the one in Har Hadar, near Jerusalem, where a Palestinian killed three Israelis and seriously injured a fourth.
We condemn this attack that once again shows utmost disrespect of human life. Children are being born in this climate of hatred. We must remedy this situation with all means by spreading the culture of life, respect and coexistence.”