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Jewish teens arrested for vandalizing Christian cemetery in Jerusalem

Damage evoked condemnation from around Israel and the world

Vandalized graves at the Protestant Christian cemetery on Mount Zion (Photo courtesy)

The Israel Police arrested two teens for “deliberate” vandalism of a Christian cemetery in Jerusalem, the police announced on Friday.

The two suspects, 14 and 18 years old, both from central Israel, were detained Thursday night on suspicion of vandalizing around 30 tombstones at the cemetery near Mount Zion. The police did not identify the suspects or give a motive for the vandalism. 

Video footage of the vandalism last Sunday showed the two teens, wearing religious articles, moving towards a large stone cross and toppling it. They can be seen breaking tombstones, by pushing them over or smashing rocks against them. 

Jerusalem District Commander Doron Turgeman met with Greek Orthodox Patriarch Theopoulos III early Thursday, before the arrests were made. 

“As the police of all the residents and visitors of Jerusalem, Jews, Muslims and Christians, we are working against violence and acts of vandalism, and especially those that offend religious sentiments,” Turgeman said. 

Attacks by extremist Jews on Christians, especially clergy, occur frequently in Jerusalem's Old City. Last year, security cameras caught an unprovoked attack by three religious Jews against Armenian priests near Jaffa Gate. One of the priests was hospitalized. 

Benjamin Pileggi, communications director for Christ Church, also told ALL ISRAEL NEWS that there has been an increase of violent actions and bigotry in the past years against Christians in the city.

“The more overtly Christian you look, the more you feel it,” he said. “As a church, obviously, you feel it whether its people protesting outside, whether its people recording videos that seem quite inciting. And so we definitely feel the tension, a rise in antagonism.”

The Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs condemned the attacks as a “non-religious and immoral act,” saying that “the State of Israel has been committed to freedom of worship and religion for members of all faiths, and will continue this policy.” 

Another such incident occurred in 2013, with four Jewish suspects arrested after church officials provided video evidence of the vandalism to the police. 

U.S. leaders decried the vandalism, including U.S. State Department Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Antisemitism Deborah Lipstadt.

“I condemn this despicable act,” Lipstadt said on social media. “Desecration of any and all holy sites is unacceptable, and the sanctity of burial must be respected.” 

The U.S. Embassy in Israel also released a social media post saying, “Vandalizing religious sites is unacceptable. Jerusalem must be a city for all its inhabitants." 

The cemetery was opened in 1848 by Anglican bishop of Jerusalem Samuel Gobat. Gobat’s grave was one of those desecrated. 

Yisca Harani, a historian who specializes in Christianity, noted that the cemetery is a final resting place of “the greats of the world” from a variety of fields, particularly archaeology.

Pileggi said that if Israelis were aware of the people whose graves were desecrated, they would hopefully have more respect, if not gratitude, for their service to the Holy Land. 

“It's sad this history is forgotten, especially by Jewish extremists. They don’t grasp the magnitude or tragedy that these people (buried here) were Zionists before many Jews were even Zionists,” Pileggi said. “If they only understood who these people whose graves they are desecrating, maybe they wouldn’t do it.”

Harani told ALL ISRAEL NEWS after a visit to the cemetery on Wednesday that the damage was “beyond my imagination.”  

She is hoping to bring a group to help make repairs and recruit experts to contribute appraisal work and legal assistance. Harani led a solidarity march of Israeli Jews following the 2021 incident against the Armenian priests and raised funds to purchase security cameras for clergymen to deter further attacks.

Read more: CHRISTIANS

The All Israel News Staff is a team of journalists in Israel.

Nicole Jansezian is the news editor for both ALL ISRAEL NEWS and ALL ARAB NEWS and senior correspondent for ALL ISRAEL NEWS

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