Attacks at Jerusalem churches

Suspected 'price tag' attacks against Christian properties are a recent development.

Jerusalem church attacked 521 (photo credit: Courtesy of Jerusalem Baptist Church)
Jerusalem church attacked 521
(photo credit: Courtesy of Jerusalem Baptist Church)
Israeli authorities are investigating a recent series of attacks against Christian properties in Jerusalem, unsure whether they are part of the “price tag” campaign to deter the government from further anti-settlement measures.
On February 6, buildings and cars at the Valley of the Cross monastery were defaced with disturbing phrases like “Jesus drop dead” and “Death to Christians.” Calling themselves “The Maccabees of Migron,” the culprits also scrawled the words “price tag.” Migron is a Jewish settlement located nine miles north of Jerusalem that had three unauthorized homes demolished by Israeli authorities recently.
Two weeks later, the Baptist House on Narkiss Street in Jerusalem, a building that hosts three different congregations, suffered a similar attack. The derogatory graffiti sprayed on the church walls and cars included “Jesus son of a whore”; “We will crucify you”; “Jesus, son of Mary, the whore”; “Death to Christians,” and “Jesus is dead.”
Three cars, two of which belonged to Jewish neighbors, were also spray-painted and their tires slashed. The perpetrators again left the words “price tag.”
The phrase “price tag” refers to an effort by extremists to exact a price for perceived anti-settlement measures by the Israeli government through acts of vandalism against Arabs, the IDF and other targets. The campaign actually dates back to the 2005 disengagement from Gaza, when some vowed that any further uprooting of settlements would meet resistance.
Only recently have the price tag attacks been directed against Christians, though not everyone is convinced the latest attacks on churches fit the pattern of past incidents. According to police, prior attacks were carried out by an organized group of settlers whereas these appear to be copy-cat actions carried out by one or more individuals.
“You don’t know for sure. They could be Arabs to make Jews look bad and incite anti-Semitism. Or it could be a Jew who attacks anything non-Jewish,” said Dr. Al Nucciarone, senior pastor of the Jerusalem Baptist Church, which meets in the Narkiss Street compound.
One thing is certain, the Baptist House continues to be a “lightening rod for attacks,” noted Rev. Roger Elbel, director of the Christian Alliance church on nearby Street of the Prophets in Jerusalem, whose own church has been targeted. Arsonists burned the Baptist building to the ground in 1982. More recently, vandals broke into the sanctuary and set fire to it in three places, said church administrator Chad Knight.
Responses to the vandalism of churches have been overwhelmingly supportive and unifying, noted Elbel. “When the attacks happen, they always backfire because we are strengthened,” he said.
Charles Kopp, longtime pastor of a congregation in the Baptist House, said his fellowship has “dealt with it calmly.” Rather than seeking vengeance, they welcome all who would like to visit, pray and learn.
“We are not afraid,” added Nucciarone. “We have been through it before, so we are not going to stop doing what we are doing.”
Rabbis, government officials and ordinary Israeli citizens have all come to express sympathy and solidarity with the Christian community following the attacks.
Following the recent Baptist House vandalism, the rabbi and cantor from the synagogue across the street came the same day with a huge bouquet of flowers and a note of solidarity and friendship, said Kopp.
Many Jewish neighbors also brought notes, flowers and even a cake to encourage the congregations.
Dr. Moti Zaken, special adviser on minority affairs to Israel’s Internal Security minister, told a gathering at the Baptist House after the attack that the government took the matter seriously.
“I apologize on behalf of Israel. You have the support of the overwhelming majority of Israelis, who view such attacks with disgust. Nobody deserves to be vandalized like this, but especially not our supportive Christian friends,” Zaken assured.
Rabbi David Rosen, interreligious affairs adviser to the Chief Rabbinate, said it is “vital that the State of Israel does all it can to give the Christian communities under its authority not only a sense of security in the present, but a sense of security for the future.”
“Aside from dealing with assaults on Christian property and defamation in general, there are many things the government should be doing to strengthen the Christian presence here,” he added.