For the second time in a year, Israeli vandals targeted a Christian church in Jerusalem Sunday with extremist anti-Christian graffiti. Assailants tagged the religious site with threats in Hebrew: “Death to the heathen Christians, “the enemies of Israel”, “Let his [Jesus’] name and memory be obliterated” and “Christians to Hell.”
The Dormition Abbey is a 5th century church and monastery outside of the Old City walls by the Zion Gate that hosts interfaith programs between Jews and Christians. Last February the church was burned in an arson attack.
The caretaker of the church, the Latin Patriarch, said in a statement: “We hope that the perpetrators will be arrested before proposed threats are carried out.” It added, “The unique remedy for such behaviour is to control the kind of education given in the schools where these young people are educated, and to follow up those who incite intolerance against Christians.”
The vandalization is also the second act of property destruction on Christian sites in less than a month, reflecting a rise in recent years of vandalism aimed at churches across Israel and the West Bank.
In December extremists burned crosses on six graves in a Catholic cemetery in Beit Shemesh south of Jerusalem. The 2015 property damage was the third anti-Christian assault on the Beit Jamal monetary and burial grounds. In 2013 the church was firebombed and assailants sprayed graffiti with the words “price tag,” “death to the Gentiles,” and “revenge.” The cemetery was targeted once before, in the 1980s when attackers also burned crosses over graves.
The most extensive damage to a Christian site in recent years occurred when extremists firebombed the Church of the Multiplication and Loaves in the Galilee in June 2015. The 5th century basilica was left with $1.8 million in damages and one monk was hospitalized, according to a National Geographic article on the rising number of assaults on churches in Israel, including “dozens” of such attacks since 2013.
The increase of arson and graffiti damage to Christian sites comes as part of a broader trend of settler attacks against Palestinians. The PLO’s Negotiations Affairs Department’s monitoring group found settler attacks against Palestinians and their property skyrocketed in general in 2013 to 936 incidents, and 1011 incidents in 2014—a dramatic increase from 93 attacks in 2012.
Despite thousands of attacks in recent years, police have arrested few extremists.
Last month, two West Bank settlers were charged for last June’s attack on the Church of the Multiplication and Loaves, when Israeli police announced indictments against six settlers for property damage crimes. Charges were brought forward at the same time as two settlers were indicted for the killing of three Palestinians in the West Bank town of Duma in an arson attack last summer.
Police indicted Yinon Reuveni and Yehuda Asraf for firebombing the church with gasoline they purchased at a gas station. Reuveni was previously charged for a 2013 attack on the Dormition Abbey, the church that was desecrated on Sunday.
Reuveni and Asraf are known figures in the “hilltop youth,” a movement of extremist West Bank settlers who seek to overthrow the state of Israel by way of violent acts against Palestinians, noted Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs noted on its website. The entry details the extremists founded their organization in 2013 under “an extremist ideology that aspires to change the regime and bring about the redemption via various stages of action.”
Reuveni, in particular was described as, previously having “been served with injunctions barring him from Judea and Samaria several times due to violent activity against Arabs and their property, and due to information that indicated his suspected involvement in perpetrating several acts of arson against Palestinian property and religious sites” in the West Bank.
No arrests have been made in connection with Sunday’s crime.