Vandals desecrate graveyard of monastery near Beit Shemesh

Beit Jamal has been the target of several hate crimes over the years.

Vandalism at a cemetery of a Catholic monastery in Beit Shemesh on October 18, 2018. (photo credit: TAG MEIR)
Vandalism at a cemetery of a Catholic monastery in Beit Shemesh on October 18, 2018.
(photo credit: TAG MEIR)
A police forensic team is investigating the desecration of the cemetery at the Beit Jimal monastery south of Beit Shemesh.
Antonio Scudo, an Italian monk from the Salesian monastery, told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday that monks discovered the vandalism, including the toppling of tombstones and smashing of tombs, on Sunday. The crosses, he noted, are made of concrete.
“That means they pushed them over with a lot of force.”
Beit Jimal, a popular pilgrimage and tourism site, has been repeatedly vandalized in recent years, he said. Vandals desecrated the cemetery in 1981 and 2015. In 2013, a firebomb was thrown at the church causing minor damage, and the words “price tag” were spray painted on an wall. In 2017, vandals shattered stained-glass windows, destroyed a statue of the Virgin Mary, and damaged furniture.
Yesh Atid leader MK Yair Lapid condemned the attack on church property. “Harm done to cemeteries is a despicable act, and must not pass without widespread condemnation when it is carried out in Israel.”
Wadie Abunassar, a spokesman for the Latin Patriarchate in Jerusalem, said in a statement that in previous cases of vandalism against the monastery “the security systems failed to bring anybody to justice for these acts, and we wonder if today’s incident would meet a similar fate!
“It is of regret and anger to see ourselves busy condemning such criminal acts, which were repeated many times in recent years, while we almost don’t see security and/or educational treatment to this dangerous phenomenon by the state authorities, especially while top officials in the country claim as if Christians are doing very well in it,” he continued.
“While we demand the state, with all its relevant bodies, to work for punishing the attackers and educate the people not to make similar offenses, we pray to the Almighty for the retreat of the attackers and hoping that all peoples, especially at our Holy Land, learn to coexist with each other in love and mutual respect, regardless of the diversities among them,” Abunassar concluded.
Dr. Gadi Gvaryahu, chairman of the anti-racism NGO Tag Meir, visited the cemetery on Wednesday to express solidarity with monastery’s monks.
“The Tag Meir Forum condemns with disgust the desecration of the Christian cemetery in Beit Jimal, which adds to a series of hate crimes committed in the past few days,” a statement put out by the organization said, referring to recent reports of the vandalism of 28 vehicles in the West Bank village of Asira al-Qabaliya, graffiti found on a mosque in the Palestinian village of Krayot, and a riot in the Adei Ad outpost.
Tag Meir also called for completing the investigation into the death of Aysha al-Rabi, who was killed last Friday when a stone was thrown at her car as she was driving with her family on Route 60 near the Tapuah junction. Police and Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) are investigating the possibility that a Jewish extremist threw the stone.
“The Palestinian population in Judea and Samaria must be protected from terrorists, just as Israeli citizens are protected,” Tag Meir said.
Archaeologists identify Beit Jimal as the village of Rabban Gamaliel the Elder, a leading authority in the Sanhedrin in the early 1st century and the grandson of the Mishnaic sage Hillel. St. Stephen, a disciple of Jesus who was stoned to death by the Sanhedrin, is believed to be buried in a cave at the monastery.