Church Burning and Jewish Settlers in Israel

Enza Ferreri


 

Israel’s unfair treatment of Christians continues. At the end of June, Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF) arrested Greek Orthodox Bishop Atallah Hanna during his peaceful participation in a march protesting the illegal seizure and subsequent sale of Beit al-Baraka hospital, which is part of al-Baraka church, north of Hebron.

A few days ago Palestine News Network reported:

A delegation from the Presbyterian church as well as international and Israeli activists participated in the march against the sale of Beit al-Baraka, a hospital which provided medical services to Palestinians as part of al-Baraka church services. The sale is illegal under international and canonical law. …

Israeli newspaper Haaretz last month leaked details of the seizure of Beit al-Baraka hospital by a Jewish billionaire, the sale having been allegedly made through a fake Norwegian real estate company. Days after publication of this illegal seizure, the sale process halted, however Israeli Defense Minister, Moshe Ya’alon, subsequently decided that there was no legal impediment to the sale of the building.

The previous week saw one of the most serious episodes of violence in recent memory against Christians in Israel. Five teams of firefighters were necessary to put out the flames which at dawn woke up Tabgha, the area on the shores of the Sea of Galilee, in northern Israel, where Jesus fed the 5,000 with the miracle of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes (Mark 6:30–46) and where Jesus appeared for the fourth time after his resurrection following his Crucifixion (John 21:1–24).

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In the middle of the night, a fire broke out at the Church of the Multiplication of the Loaves and Fish, built on the site of the miracle, “causing extensive damage to the inside and outside of the building, said Israel police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld.” A monk and a church volunteer were hospitalised from smoke inhalation.

A spokesman for the fire brigade said that the blaze broke out in several places inside the limestone church, evidence that it was started deliberately.

Hebrew graffiti had been spray-painted in red on a wall outside the church, reading “False gods will be destroyed,” a passage from the Aleinu Leshabeach, a prayer recited by practising Jews at the end of each of the three daily services, suggesting that Jewish zealots were responsible.

So much for the much-vaunted “Judaeo-Christian tradition.” These Israeli Jews didn’t get the memo.

Police briefly detained 16 young Jewish settlers, all religious Jewish seminary students visiting the Sea of Galilee area from settlements in the Israeli-occupied West Bank. They were freed within hours. Police spokeswoman Luba Samri said that 10 of those detained were from Yitzhar, which is known as a bastion of extremists and where some residents have been involved in previous hate crimes.

The Church of the Multiplication of the Loaves and Fish is one of the Holy Land’s most famous Catholic churches and one of the places most visited by pilgrims to the Holy Land, with more than 5,000 people visiting it daily. The church had to be closed for a few days due to the fire damage.

Nahum Weisfish, a Jerusalem rabbi, said the site might have been targeted because it housed a synagogue some 2,000 years ago.

The site is owned by the German Roman Catholic Church, and Berlin’s envoy to Israel Andreas Michaelis said he was “shocked” by the incident, adding: “Religious institutions must be as well protected in Israel as they are in Germany and Europe.”

That’s exactly the point. If Israel wants to be considered as a Western democracy, it’s no good to argue that Christians in the Jewish state are not butchered and tortured with the degree of barbarity we find in Muslim countries and Muslim-controlled areas. The difference pointed out between Israel and other Middle Eastern nations is true, but the right object of comparison for a country which claims to be part of the West should be Western democracies.

Zionists have to stress how concerned they are about the fate of Christians in the Middle East at the hands of murderous Muslims to keep the Evangelicals supporting their cause. That doesn’t stop Israel from secretly helping the worst murderers of Christians: ISIS.

Tabgha had been subjected to a previous attack in April 2014. Father Matthias Karl, a German monk at the church, explained that a group of religious Jewish teenagers had pelted worshippers with stones, destroyed a cross and threw benches into the lake.

In April, vandals smashed gravestones at a Maronite Christian cemetery near Israel’s northern border with Lebanon.

In recent years, many mosques and churches have been vandalised in both Israel and the West Bank. The attacks are often attributed to extremist Jews, particularly from West Bank settlements, but, despite condemnations and promises of crackdown on religiously-inspired hate crime by Israeli politicians, few have been convicted.

Rabbis for Human Rights says there have been 43 hate crime attacks on churches, mosques and monasteries in Israel and the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem since 2009.

Many of these are so-called “price-tag” attacks, carried out against Israeli security forces as well as Palestinian property, both Muslim and Christian, in reprisal for Israeli government’s action against the Jewish illegal settlements in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem. The name indicates that these attacks are the price to pay for anti-settlement activity.

The US State Department’s 2013 Country Reports on Terrorism included price-tag attacks for the first time: “In August, the Beit Jamal Monastery near Jerusalem was firebombed and spray-painted with the words “death to the Gentiles” and other slogans.”

It quotes UN figures of “399 attacks by extremist Israeli settlers that resulted in Palestinian injuries or property damage.” It adds that such attacks were “largely unprosecuted according to UN and NGO sources.”

Whenever there is mention of the UN, Zionists reject wholesale every one of its pronouncements or reports because it is “pro-Palestinian,” implying that it is biased. They often argue that all Muslim countries, through the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), vote as a bloc in the UN, thus skewing the vote results in favour of the Palestinians and against Israel. OIC is a 57-member state organisation representing 1.5 billion Muslims around the world. As the largest Islamic organization in the world, it is quite powerful and the largest voting bloc in the UN.

Could it be that the UN is “pro-Palestinian” because of the right of return that Israel denies the Palestinians? Or because of the 3/4 of a million illegal settlers in Israel’s Occupied Territories?

Israel’s Joint Arab List party alliance, in the wake of the attack against the Church of the Multiplication, called for the immediate dismissal of Israel’s police chief, Yohanan Danino, and for Right-wing extremist groups to be declared terrorist organisations. It also accused the government of doing nothing to control extremist Right-wing organisations:

Netanyahu stands at the head of the incitement system against the Arab public in Israel, and he is guilty of the revenge attacks we witness in the morning news,” the party stated. “A so-called price-tag attack is not an act by deviants, but rather an act by calculated, thinking people that are indicative of the existence and repercussions of institutionalized racism and oppression.

Prime Minister Netanyahu has used strong words against the recent unknown vandals, but it’s impossible not to notice that the perpetrators of this kind of crime have almost never been identified, captured, and put on trial. Isn’t it a bit strange, in a country which has an impressive and efficient security and police apparatus?

In addition to those already mentioned, in 2014 in Jerusalem, just before Pope Francis’ visit to Israel, both the Romanian Orthodox Church and the Notre Dame Center, the large Christian complex just outside the Old City, were covered with offensive graffiti. Before that, the Franciscan Church near the Last Supper Room, the Dormition Abbey and a nearby Christian cemetery were attacked. In 2012, using methods similar to those employed in Tabghah, the Latrun Trappist Monastery was attacked. People tried and sentenced? None.

It’s a bit difficult to see Netanyahu doggedly pursuing Jewish vandals coming from the settlements. That’s because Netanyahu is and has always been the settlements’ number one supporter. When Ariel Sharon decided to withdraw from Gaza in 2004, Netanyahu left his government in protest. In the last twenty years the surface occupied by Israeli settlements in the occupied territories has grown by over 180%, and for at least half of this time Netanyahu has been Prime Minister.

The last act of the previous Netanyahu government, the one that led to the disintegration of the government and early elections, was its approval of the law that defines Israel as the “state of the Jewish nation,” potentially discriminating against ethnic and religious minorities.

In short, all of Netanyahu’s political actions have favoured the settlements policy, and he has drawn strong and growing political support from it. The reality is that today the settlers dictate the political trend in Israel. Their interests influence the agenda of governments. The intransigence of those who hold the front line, even risking their lives, is to be respected. The rest, including arsons, is just a consequence.

Enza Ferreri is an Italian-born, London-based Philosophy graduate, writer and journalist. She has been a London correspondent for several Italian magazines and newspapers, including Panorama, L’Espresso, La Repubblica. She blogs at www.enzaferreri.blogspot.co.uk.

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