A spate of hate crimes against Christian places of worship in Israel has prompted usually reticent Roman Catholic officials to speak out, hoping that intervention by authorities might bring an end to the vandalism.
In the early hours of September 4, vandals set fire to the door of a renowned Trappist monastery in Latrun (outside Jerusalem) and defaced it with anti-Christian graffiti, stating “Jesus is a monkey”.
In the two weeks which have elapsed since the act of desecration, no arrests have been made, despite police vows that the culprits would be brought to justice. Similar incidences of vandalism also occurred in the months preceding this attack.
The Rev. Pierbattista Pizzaballa, one of the church's top officials in the Holy Land, expressed deep concern over the state of relations between Jews and Christians.
In an interview with the Associated Press, Pizzaballa pointed out that because the local Christian population is miniscule, they aren’t taken into consideration by “the majority”. Approximately 155,000 of Israel’s citizens are Christian, which equates to less than 2 per cent of the population.
He stated that “the main atmosphere is ignorance.”
However, he also told AP that the minority Christian population may not have invested “enough energy and initiatives” in reaching out to Israeli Jews.
The “custos” (custodians) of Catholic holy sites, including Pizzaballa, have issued a declaration, calling on leaders to act. Although he recognizes that the arson and vandalism that Christians have been victims of are not demonstrative of wider attitudes, he is firm that Israel must do more.
In February this year, a Jerusalem monastery was tagged with the phrase “death to Christians,” painted in Hebrew, as part of what is now known as the “price tag campaign”. In July, an Israeli lawmaker ripped the New Testament out of a Bible and threw it into the garbage, later claiming that “millions of Jews were murdered in the name of the New Testament,” and calling the book “revolting.”
Shortly after the September attack, a statement signed by the Latin Patriarch for Jerusalem, Fouad Twal, and Giorgio Lingua, Apostolic Nuncio for Jordan, the Assembly of Catholics Ordinaries of the Holy Land asked, “what kind of ‘teaching of contempt’ for Christians is being communicated in their schools and in their homes?”
Pizzaballa echoed their concerns, asking AP, “What is going on in Israeli society today that permits Christians to be scapegoated [sic] and targeted by these acts of violence?”