05/02/2023

Violence against Christians and vandalism of religious sites in Israel on the rise

URŞLEM (JERUSALEM) – Christians in the Middle East already suffer from intimidation, persecutions and attacks on their holy places. Following several recent incidents of harassment, violence, vandalism, and discrimination against Christians, several churches and foreign governments have now sounded the alarm over Israel, reports Deutsche Welle in an extensive report.

After ultra-religious and ultra-nationalist parties joined Benjamin Netanyahu’s new government, there seems to be an increase in incidents against Christians. In Urşlem (Jerusalem), even the dead are not left along. At the beginning of January, two Jewish youths desecrated and vandalized some thirty Christian graves of a Protestant cemetery where they smashed tombstones and destroyed crosses. The two Israelis were arrested after they were recognized through images of security cameras. They wore Jewish skull caps and Tzitzit, the knotted ritual fringes worn by observant Jews.

The desecration of cemeteries came only a few days after far-right and ultranationalist parties joined the new Israeli government of Benjamin Netanyahu.

The Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs condemned the crime at the cemetery, called it an affront to religion and said the perpetrators will be brought before the court. The chief of police of Urşlem met with local church leaders after the incident and offered them help to recover the damages. He said that any harm and damage to religious institutions and places in his city, which includes all religions and traditions, is a serious matter that affects its unique nature and balance of coexistence.

The vandalism of the cemetery was not an isolated incident. Some days later, the vandalism of a community center belonging to the some 250 Syriac Maronites of the northern city of Ma’alot-Tarshiha was discovered. Unknown persons vandalized the community center and defaced Christian images.

Also on that day, discriminatory graffiti in Hebrew appeared on walls in the Armenian Quarter of Urşlem. Unknown persons wrote “death to Christians”, “death to Arabs”, and “death to Armenians” on walls on different places in the neighborhood.

On the evening of January 26, Jewish extremists openly attacked stores and restaurants owned by Christians in an alleyway in Urşlem’s Old City

After the multiple attacks on Christians, representatives of different churches and different  foreign government officials have raised their voice in strong dissatisfaction and condemnation. Officials of the German Foreign Ministry, for example, have stated that they expect the Israeli security authorities will fulfill their international obligations and will fully comply with the protection of the Christian minority.

Deutsche Welle spoke with the German Benedict monk Father Nikodemus Schnabel of a monastery on the outskirts of Urşlem’s Old City. He told DW that, “In the past, too, it could sometimes happen that someone recognizably as a Christian clergyman was spat on in the Jewish quarter of the Old City. But that did not happen every day.” Today, it happens quite often, he said. The monk speaks of an “enormous brutalization” within a very short time, which is clearly noticeable.

It seems that since the new Israeli government with ultra-right and ultra-nationalist parties took office, attacks by Jewish extremists on Christians and their holy sites have increased. Whether appeals by Western governments and churches to the incumbent Israeli government and its cunning Prime Minister can change this is highly questionable.