Weeks before Pope Francis is due to arrive in Israel May 24 for a three-day visit, attacks and threats against Christians and their holy sites have escalated dramatically.
The latest hateful graffiti — “King David for the Jews” and “Jesus is garbage”– were sprayed in Hebrew on the Romanian Orthodox Church in Jerusalem this morning. That makes it the 20th attack of this nature inside Israel in 2014. Already this year Jewish extremists have graffiti’d “Death to Arabs,” “America is Nazi Germany” and “Jesus monkey, Maria cow,” on Christian holy sites, in attacks described by the church as “terrorist vandalism.”
After a column in front of the Vatican’s Office of the Assembly of Bishops was vandalized on Monday the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, the Vatican’s Holy Land custodian, responded on its official website stating, “The wave of fanaticism and intimidation against Christians continues.” The statement goes on to say, “there has been terror for some time’, and expresses concern there had been no condemnation of the latest attack issued by Israeli government officials. The Latin Patriarchate also notes an “absence or weakness of prosecution” of an astonishing 400 such cases, and expresses fear of impending escalation. The statement also warns that the Heads of the Churches in the Holy Land would respond.
The Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem (original bold):
Acts of vandalism and, especially, last week’s anti-Christian death threats in Galilee have aroused great emotion and solidarity. “For more than a week – says Bishop Giacinto-Boulos Marcuzzo, Patriarchal Vicar for Israel – I was literally a ‘prisoner’, along with my collaborators, in the living room at the Patriarchal Vicariate in Nazareth where there were continuous visits by individuals and groups of various religions: Muslims, Druze, Christians of all denominations, Jewish academic circles and dialogue associations.”
But the faithful may have perceived a false note in these expressions of solidarity. Aside from the fact-finding visit to the local police, no gesture of solidarity and condemnation came the Israeli political side. It has shocked the faithful deeply: “We feel neither safe nor protected.”
The Bishops are very concerned about the lack of security and lack of responsiveness from the political sector, and fear an escalation of violence. There has been terror for some time, beginning with graffiti, then moved on to drilling holes in the tires of cars, various acts of vandalism and looting of properties or Christian symbols. Given the absence or weakness of prosecution, vandals have now come with personal threats. The recently published U.S. report on the phenomenon of Mekhir Tag (Price Tag) and other aspects of this terrorist vandalism is quite clear and disturbing. It lists more than 400 cases, the vast majority have gone un-prosecuted.
Heads of the Churches in the Holy Land are preparing a series of actions aimed at informing local and international public opinion, and to make the authorities and law officials aware of their responsibilities.
Subsequently Haaretz reported Israeli Police and the Shin Bet were concerned the situation could escalate as Jewish extremists could exploit the Popes visit by carrying out a major hate crime against Christians and/or their holy sites.
Meanwhile, Internal Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch told Army Radio on Wednesday that Israel “intended” to use administrative detention against extremists. Aljazeera reports Israel mulls internment for Arab hate crimes:
Although police have made scores of arrests, there have been no successful prosecutions for price tag attacks and the government has come under mounting pressure to authorise the Shin Bet internal security agency to step in.
“It is a matter of days or even weeks until these people are caught and investigated, and I hope they will be brought to justice for their actions,” said Aharonovitch…
Myriam Ambroselli, Director of the Media Office at the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, in an article published today on the attacks: “For a country that prides itself constantly on wanting to ensure, at any price, the safety of its residents, the recent escalation of violence is a stain. And what about the bitter lack of a message of solidarity to Christians who are preparing to receive the Pope in a few days?”
Even though the government seeks to distance itself from these attacks, the context they are arising in is one where the state is seeking to “de-Arabize” Christians and actively recruiting Christians into the Israeli army to separate them from the broader Palestinian community. In addition, they are walling up and stealing Church land, separating nuns from their Monastery, and denying Christians and Muslims access to holy sites on holy days.