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How Jewish extremists in Israel attack Christian churches and get away with it

Hunter Stuart
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The anti-Christian graffiti on the Dormition Abbey in Jerusalem that reads “May His [Jesus’] name be obliterated” on January 17.

Published: 22 January 2016

Last updated: 4 March 2024

On 16 January, graffiti was found on the Dormition Abbey in Jerusalem, where tradition says Jesus had his “last supper” before he was crucified. “Death to the heathen Christians,” it read, in crude Hebrew characters. “The revenge of the people of Israel is yet to come,” said another message, next to a picture of a bloody sword.

This was not the first time the abbey had been attacked. It was also vandalised in 2012, 2013 and 2014, police say. Such attacks have been the norm now for years, not just in Jerusalem but all over the West Bank and in Israel proper. “In the past, it only happened now and then,” Wadia Abu Nasser, an adviser to the Assembly of Catholic Bishops in the Holy Land, told The Jewish Independent. “But now, if you just Google, you’ll find dozens of examples.”

One particularly severe attack occurred last summer, when the Church of the Multiplication of Loaves and Fishes was set on fire in the middle of the night while people were asleep inside. Reports said that the church, which is located in northern Israel and is the site where Christians believe Jesus fed throngs of people by magically proliferating both loaves and fish, suffered US$1.8 million in damage. Two people were injured and the church’s roof collapsed.

The perpetrators of these attacks are said to be young, ideological Jewish-Israeli extremists. Police arrested a 15-year-old and a 16-year-old for vandalizing the Dormition Abbey and setting fire to one of its doors. The pair are said to be part of the same group that has committed a variety of similar crimes in recent years, Israeli daily Yediot Ahronot reported. Meanwhile, the suspects in last summer’s arson attack on the Church of the Multiplication of Loaves and Fishes are Ynon Reuveni, 20, and Yehuda Assraf, 19, members of “the hilltop youth,” an extremist group that lives on small, rugged West Bank outposts that are illegal even under Israeli law.

Why do these young, fanatical Jewish men threaten “revenge” on Christians in Israel? The region that is now Israel has been home to large numbers of Christians since the time of Jesus and, as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is fond of pointing out, Israel is one of the only places in the Middle East where the Christian population is actually growing: their numbers here have been increasing since the early days of the Ottoman Empire, with only one significant drop between 1945 and 1967, when many fled or were driven out during the 1948 War of Independence, which Palestinians call “The Nakba” or catastrophe.

The hilltop youth and their brothers-in-arms are followers of the late Meir Kahane (1932-1990), a far-right rabbi from Brooklyn who favoured dispensing with democracy in Israel in favor of making the country into a Jewish state. Kahane’s followers sometimes called him “Kahane, King Of Israel.”

Kahane was also virulently anti-Arab, and the hilltop youth are no different. In addition to attacking Christian holy sites, the group’s members - who often have shaggy hair and wear big, homemade yarmulkes - are said to be responsible for hundreds of assaults on Muslims and their property over the past decade. These “price tag” attacks, as they’re called, are meant to extract a “price” from the Israeli government for restricting the activities of settlements and outposts in the West Bank.

If you're asking yourself why Christians in Israel are being punished for the actions of the Israeli government, you're not alone. Abu Nasser of the Assembly of Catholic Bishops in the Holy Land objects to the term “price tag” attacks. “We Christians have committed no crimes,” Abu Nasser said. So when threats are made against Christians, “it should not be called a "price tag" attack - it should be called a hate crime.”

The government issues strong condemnations every time another major attack occurs on a Christian monastery, church or abbey in Israel. "We will act with zero tolerance towards those who harm the democracy and the freedom of religion in the state. And we will arrest those who execute this sinful crime," the office of Israel Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan told The Jewish Independent in an emailed statement.

But in practice, it seems all the government does is arrest the attackers, and nothing more. According to Israeli media, there have been no convictions for any of the recent attacks on Christian sites. Similarly, the perpetrators of anti-Muslim hate crimes in Israel are rarely punished.

“Sadly, Israeli society has a lot of forgiveness for those criminals,” said Carmi Gillon, a former leader of the Shin Bet, at a discussion with journalists earlier this month in Jerusalem, which The Jewish Independent attended. Gillon, who said “the worst job in all of Israel” is being in charge of the Shin Bet’s small Jewish terrorism department - a post he held from 1982 to 1986 - spoke at length at the January 17 discussion about how religious terrorism is typically the most difficult type of terrorism to combat. “Secular groups all over the world, from Baader Meinhof [the militant German group], or The Red Brigades [a Marxist paramilitary group in Italy], and on and on - all of them are willing to compromise, because it’s only politics, it’s not religion. When it comes to religion, in any country, the religious people will never compromise.”

This The Jewish Independent article may be republished if acknowledged thus: “This article first appeared on www.thejewishindependent.com.au and is reprinted with permission."

For a previous relevant post see: Till when will Israel let its churches and mosques be burnt? June 24, 2015


About the author

Hunter Stuart

Hunter Stuart is a freelance writer living in Jerusalem. Formerly, he was a staff reporter at The Huffington Post in New York. He tweets @hoont.


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