(photo credit: ANDREW SHIVA / WIKIPEDIA)
Police arrested a 16-year-old Israeli boy overnight Tuesday and a second suspect, 15, on Wednesday for allegedly daubing anti-Christian graffiti on a wall of the capital’s Dormition Abbey.
Due to the suspects’ ages, few details regarding the investigation, including their identities, have been released. Both were remanded by the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court.
“The investigation is continuing in order to determine whether there is a connection between the vandalism of this church and other anti-Christian incidents in the Old City,” said police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld.
Early Sunday morning, the words “May his name be obliterated,” “Death to the heathen Christians the enemies of Israel” and “Go to hell” were crudely scrawled in red ink on the compound’s walls, drawing international condemnation.
Noting previous vandalism at the church, the Anti-Defamation League issued a statement following Wednesday’s arrest denouncing the hateful graffiti at the Dormition Abbey, near where many Christians believe Jesus held the Last Supper and the Virgin Mary ascended to heaven.
“This church has been the target of repeated attacks,” said ADL’s Israel office’s acting director, Carole Nuriel, and Rabbi David Fox Sandmel, ADL’s director of interfaith affairs, in a joint statement.
“Sadly it is but one of an increasingly long list of religious sites, including churches, mosques and synagogues that have been vandalized by extremists who reject the value of religious freedom enshrined in Israel’s Declaration of Independence.”
The statement continued: “While we acknowledge Israel’s efforts to combat this extremism and call to bring the perpetrators to justice, we share the feeling expressed by many in the Christian community that enough is enough.”
The ADL’s condemnation was shared by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who denounced the crime during his weekly cabinet meeting on Sunday, and vowed to capture the perpetrators.
“This is an action deserving of every condemnation; there is no place for actions like these,” he said. “Israel is a place where Christians and all other religions enjoy freedom of worship, and the only place in the Middle East where the Christian population is growing.”
Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan called the vandalism an affront to the nation’s religious principles.
“We will not let anyone undermine religious coexistence in Israel,” he said in a statement.
“We have zero tolerance for those who undercut our fundamental democratic principles and freedom of religion. We will deal with the perpetrators of these criminal acts.”
The head of the Joint List, MK Ayman Odeh, called the vandalism a hate crime.
“Harassment and harming of places that are holy to Islam and Christianity have become almost constant and no one is held accountable,” Odeh said after the vandalism was reported.
“In Jerusalem members of the clergy have been harassed for years, but lately this phenomenon has become worse, more common, and more violent.”
Moreover, Odeh blamed the government for “leading the hatred and approving, with a wink, the continuation of the hate crimes against the Arab minority in the state.”
In a statement, the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem described the Dormition Abbey as “a significant place for interreligious dialog between Judaism and Christianity,” and expressed “hope that the perpetrators will be arrested before they put proposed threats into action.”
In 2014, hours after Pope Francis concluded his visit to the capital, a vandal set fire to a guest book at the entrance to the compound. In May of 2013, the church was vandalized with anti-Christian graffiti, and the tires of cars parked near the building were slashed.
The 16-year-old suspect is reportedly being represented by a lawyer from the right-wing Israeli Zionist legal aid organization Honenu, which offers legal services “to our people to protect and preserve their rights to receive a fair judicial process,” it website states.
Rosenfeld said heightened security remains in effect in the Old City to prevent future incidents.sign up to our newsletter