Two teenagers arrested over vandalism at Jerusalem cemetery

Police say 18-year-old and 14-year-old held for defacing Christian graves are residents of central Israel

Bishop Hosam Naoum inspects vandalised graves at a Protestant cemetery on Mount Zion, Jerusalem. EPA
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Israeli police on Friday arrested two teenagers who they said vandalised more than two dozen Christian graves in a historic Jerusalem cemetery this week.

Tombstones at the Protestant Cemetery on Jerusalem’s venerated Mount Zion were found pushed over and pulled from their foundations on Sunday, unsettling the city’s Christian minority and drawing widespread condemnation.

Israeli police did not name the suspected vandals but said they were aged 18 and 14 and residents of central Israel. Security camera footage of the attack showed two young men wearing Jewish skullcaps and tzitzit ― the knotted ritual fringes worn by observant Jews ― knocking over crosses, breaking tombstones and throwing debris over the graves.

The cemetery is more than 170 years old and is the resting place of prominent members of the armed forces and clergy in the city.

“Any damage to religious institutions and sites is serious and harms the unique and delicate fabric of life that exists in the city,” the police said, describing the act as “intentional vandalism”.

A Jerusalem court on Friday held a hearing to extend the detention of the two teenagers.

The US Embassy’s Office of Palestinian Affairs said it was concerned that the religious site was targeted again.

“Religious site vandalism by anyone is unacceptable,” the office said on Thursday. “Jerusalem must be a city for all of its people.”

The Anglican Church in Jerusalem denounced the desecration as the latest hate crime targeting the Christian community in the city during the decades-long Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Mount Zion, associated in Christian tradition with the site of the Last Supper that Jesus shared with his disciples the night before his crucifixion, is sacred to Jews and Muslims and has been at the centre of competing religious claims.

Jewish extremists have defaced church property on Mount Zion previously. Jews consider Mount Zion the traditional burial place of the biblical King David and some ultra-Orthodox and nationalist activists oppose Christian prayer rights at the site. A Jewish seminary known as the Diaspora Yeshiva has taken over many buildings in the Mount Zion compound.

The attack on the cemetery came days after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was sworn in as head of a coalition government that is the most right-wing in Israel's history.

With reporting from agencies

Updated: January 06, 2023, 2:23 PM