Suspects from extremist Jewish group indicted for arson of Church of Loaves and Fishes

The church, which Christians believe is where Jesus performed the Miracle of the Multiplication of the Loaves and the Fishes, was damaged extensively in the fire.

July 29, 2015 14:13
2 minute read.

Suspected arson on Church of the Multiplication in the Galilee

Suspected arson on Church of the Multiplication in the Galilee


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Northern District prosecutors on Wednesday indicted two men believed to have set a historic Christian church alight in an act of religious and racial hatred.

Yinon Reuveni, 20, from Ofakim, and Yehuda Asraf, 19, from Elad, face charges of aggravated arson, destruction of property motivated by hostility toward the public and conspiracy to commit a crime at the Church of the Multiplication of the Loaves and Fishes, a Roman Catholic church run by the Benedictine Order at Ein Sheva, next to Capernaum, on the northwestern shore of the Sea of Galilee.

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Asraf was also indicted for aiding and abetting a crime, and conspiracy.

The Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) on Wednesday named two other suspects who have yet to be indicted as Mordechai Meir, 18, from Ma’aleh Adumim, and Moshe Urbach, 24, from Bnei Brak. The fifth suspect arrested in the case is an unnamed minor from Ramle, according to the agency.

Asraf, Urbach and the minor had been living off and on over the past six months in illegal West Bank outposts, and other than Asraf, all of the suspects have been banned from Judea and Samaria in the past on suspicion of violent attacks on Palestinians or Palestinian-owned property, the Shin Bet said.

The suspects were driven by the ideology held by the so-called “Hilltop Youth,” a loosely organized group of ultra-nationalists known for establishing illegal outposts in Judea and Samaria, the agency said.

The indictment says that on the night of June 17, the suspects torched the church in order to cause harm to a Christian holy place “based on their hostility toward the Christian religion.”

The indictment continues: At 10 p.m.

on that night Reuveni, driving a car Asraf lent him two weeks earlier, picked up the other suspects. They then made their way to a gas station at Latrun, west of Jerusalem, where at 10:40 p.m. they filled up a number of bottles with gasoline.

They then waited a few hours and at 3 a.m., again according to the indictment, they parked on a dirt path near the entrance to the church, and then ran through a mango grove, reaching the southwest corner of the building.

Around 3:15 a.m. they allegedly made their way to a meeting room inside the church and poured gasoline on the doors and walls of the room and lit the fuel. The entire room caught fire and the wood roof collapsed as the fire spread to two adjacent rooms.

They then allegedly spread gasoline on the door of the monks’ living quarters, and poured a trail of gasoline to a yard outside, where they lit the fuel.

The flames then reached the door of the living quarters, where at the time of the blaze a priest and a foreign volunteer were asleep. The arsonists then sprayed graffiti on a wall of the church decrying idol worship, and fled in the waiting vehicle.

During the blaze, the head of the church and a volunteer were lightly hurt by smoke inhalation.

The building was almost completely gutted by the flames, and the day after, priests and volunteers said they expected a long, costly rebuilding process.

The arson drew widespread condemnation in Israel as well as solidarity protests by non-Christian Israelis.

The Shin Bet said on Wednesday that the men responsible are followers of an “extremist ideology” that believes that “only someone who fights Christianity...

can call himself a Jew.”

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