At least 26 young Jewish activist protesting Pope Francis’s trip to Israel and alleged Israeli plans to hand over sections of King David’s Tomb to the Vatican were arrested early Sunday morning after rioting at the holy site, police said.
According to police, over 150 mostly teenage protesters – including at least one armed soldier – gathered at the contested area, believed to be the location of the Last Supper, at approximately 4 a.m. to denounce the pope’s scheduled mass there Monday.
“When police patrolling the area arrived at the scene, the demonstrators threw stones and bottles at responding officers, lightly injuring two,” said spokesman Micky Rosenfeld.
“One of those arrested was a soldier who threatened a police officer with his weapon when one of his friends was taken into custody.”
Rosenfeld added that some of the demonstrators broke into the room where the ancient sarcophagus is located, and that a police cruiser was damaged.
A room in the building known as the Cenacle is believed to be the site of the Last Supper, which, according to Christian belief, was the final meal Jesus shared with his disciples before his crucifixion.
Far-right activist Itamar Ben- Gvir, who attended the protest, claimed police initiated the violence.
“The police behaved with brutality and violence toward the youths who were attempting to protest the evacuation of King David’s Tomb for the pope’s visit,” he told Ynet news.
In response to the riot, the Foreign Ministry issued a statement patently denying assertions that the government plans to relinquish any of the historic site to the Vatican under any circumstances.
“There is no intention of handing over or granting any rights to the Last Supper Room to the Vatican – neither during the pope’s visit to Israel nor afterward,” it said. “The State of Israel is maintaining its traditional stance that the Last Supper Room and any other part of the compound on Mount Zion will not be handed over to Vatican ownership or possession in any way.”
Monday’s scheduled mass has drawn the ire of a number of right-wing activists who hold the Church accountable for crimes against Jews during the Crusades and Inquisition.
Indeed, several previous protests have taken place at the site since the announcement of the pontiff’s historic visit, resulting in anti-Christian vandalism.
Under Israeli law, Christians are permitted to pray there twice a year.
To ensure order during the pope’s visit, over 8,000 police officers will be on hand at each event attended by Francis.