Israel arrests American after vandalism at Jerusalem church

Man seen restrained at the Church of the Flagellation, a major Christian pilgrimage route

A priest cleans the scene after a wooden statue of Jesus was pulled down and damaged on February 2. AFP
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Israeli police arrested a US citizen on Thursday for allegedly breaking a statue of Jesus at a church in Jerusalem's Old City.

The unnamed man was reportedly restrained at the Church of the Flagellation, within a Franciscan complex that also houses the Church of Condemnation and Imposition of the Cross.

The complex is located the Via Dolorosa, a major pilgrimage route mapping the path Christians believe Jesus took on his way to his crucifixion.

Police said the suspect is aged in his 40s. The Franciscan custodians for the Holy Land said that he tore down and defaced a statue of Jesus at the church.

“You can’t have idols in Jerusalem, this is the holy city,” he was heard saying in video footage posted online.

The church gatekeeper Majid Al Rishq stopped the suspect after he began striking the statue, he told AFP, which broke and fell from its stand.

The Franciscan custodians for the Holy Land said it was the fifth incident targeting the Christian minority in recent weeks.

Religious Jews threw tables, glasses and chairs at a group of Christian tourists last week, they said, while “Death to Christians” was written on the walls of a monastery in the Armenian quarter.

“It is no coincidence that the legitimisation of discrimination and violence in public opinion and in the current Israeli political environment also translates into acts of hatred and violence against the Christian community,” said Fathers Alberto Joan and Francesco Patton.

Religious figures in the holy city have repeatedly warned of increasing attacks against the Christian minority, including physical attacks against clergy and restrictions on worship.

In September, Jordan's King Abdullah II said Jerusalem's Christian community was “under fire” and its churches threatened — later echoed in a statement from top Christian leaders in the city.

Two teenagers were arrested in January for allegedly vandalising more than two dozen Christian graves on Mount Zion, where tombstones at the Protestant Cemetery were found pushed over and pulled from their foundations.

Footage of the incident showed two youths dressed in Jewish skullcaps and tzitzit, the knotted fringes worn by observant Jews, knocking over crosses, breaking tombstones and throwing debris over the graves.

Churches and holy sites belonging to Jerusalem's Armenian minority have also been targeted, according to local media.

Extremists attempted to storm the Armenian Patriarchate and wrote racist slurs on its walls, the Palestinian Wafa news agency reported.

Two Jewish people were arrested on Saturday after attempting to attack a group of Armenian Christians in the Old City, police told AFP.

In 2022, an Armenian Orthodox priest was taken to hospital after being beaten up while walking to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, where Christian believe Jesus was interred after his crucifixion.

Updated: February 02, 2023, 3:11 PM