JERUSALEM — Israeli police arrested an American Jewish tourist Feb. 2 for vandalizing a statue of Jesus at the Franciscan Church of Flagellation in the Old City.
In a statement condemning the attack against a Christian site — the fifth in Jerusalem in five weeks — the Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land said it was following the incident “with concern and strongly condemn this growing succession of serious acts of hatred and violence against the Christian community in Israel.”
Franciscan Custody officials noted that in a period of just over a month, a Christian cemetery in Jerusalem had been vandalized, anti-Christian graffiti scrawled on the walls of an Armenian monastery, and a Christian-owned restaurant attacked by a group of radical settler youth. Armenians also were attacked by settler youth earlier in the week in Jerusalem. In northern Israel, a Maronite center was vandalized as well, they said.
“It is no coincidence that the legitimization of discrimination and violence in public opinion and in the current Israeli political environment also translates into acts of hatred and violence against the Christian community,” they added.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was just sworn into office for the sixth time in December with the most extreme right-wing and religious government in Israel’s history.
Videos of the incident in the Old City show a bearded man, wearing a black kippa, or yarmulke — a religious head covering — and a white shirt and dark pants. He is speaking in English as he is wrestled to the ground with no resistance by the church doorman saying: “You’re not allowed to have idols … Exodus chapter 20.”
The man tore down the statue of Jesus and defaced the face of the statue. The Church of the Flagellation is the first stop on the Via Dolorosa in the Old City of Jerusalem.
Later, as he is being arrested by the police he proclaims, “We cannot have idols in Jerusalem. It is a very serious matter. We cannot have stones of false gods in Jerusalem.”
The police said in a statement that the man, in his 40s, had been taken in for questioning and was undergoing mental health evaluation.
“The Israel Police takes damage to religious institutions and sites very seriously. The police will continue to act with determination against violence and vandalism in the holy sites of all religions. We will also continue to work in maintaining security and order. The Israel Police is unwavering in its efforts against lawbreakers wherever they may be, including those who harm holy places and religious sentiments,” they said in the statement.
On Feb. 3 heads of Missions of the European Union (EU) in Jerusalem and Ramallah came to the Church of Flagellation on a solidarity visit “to express their support for the Christian community after the dramatic event,” the Custody of the Holy Land said in a Tweet the same day. Sven Koopmans, EU’S special representative for the Middle East peace process, accompanied them.
The Jerusalem Center for Jewish-Christian Relations said in a Facebook post they intended to go on a solidarity visit Feb. 3 to the church together with the group Tag Meir. The latter is a Jewish organization seeking to transcend religious divides that responds within hours of a hate crime by organizing solidarity visits to the victims to show their opposition to such attacks.
“We strongly condemn the vandalism, the hate crime directed toward the Christian world, the Christian community in the Holy Land and those who visit it and demand the authorities to bring to justice the person caught in the act,” the Israeli group said in a statement on Facebook.