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Israel: Christians suffering increased incidents of spitting, taunting, and vandalism

Around 16,000 Christians live in Jerusalem, comprising 1.7% of the population. Slightly less than one-third of these are Greek Orthodox Christians of the Patriarchate of Jerusalem.

“Pray for the peace of Jerusalem! May they prosper who love you! Peace be within your walls, and security within your towers!” (Psalm 122:6-7)

For previous ChristianPersecution.com coverage of the persecution of Christians in Israel, see here.

“Jerusalem Christians say they’re under attack – will Israel help?,” by I. H. Mintz, Jerusalem Post, August 4, 2023:

Brother Alberto Pari has been spat on and taunted as he walks on the streets in Jerusalem.

“Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned,” youngsters have jeered.

When he first arrived in Jerusalem in 2007, he didn’t experience such behavior; but once he attained brotherhood after a year of study, he donned a traditional long black robe, which made him a visible target.

“It becomes clear you’re a religious monk” and as a result, also a target for random acts of violence, said Pari, the general secretary of the Custodian Terra Santa.

“It’s gotten worse in the last year,” he added, as he recounted that just a day earlier an Orthodox-looking Jewish boy spat at him as he ran by.

In the first three weeks of July alone, there had been 17 separate reported acts of discriminatory acts against Christians countrywide, as reported by independent researcher and activist Yisca Harani. It included acts of spitting, verbal abuse, vandalism, and stone-throwing.

“Things are happening daily,” said Harani.

Removal of the cross
The incidents Harani recorded included a highly publicized one in which a female usher at the Western Wall plaza asked the abbot of the Dormition Abbey in Jerusalem, Nikodemus Schnabel, to remove the large cross he wore over his black robe because it was “really big and inappropriate” for this “Jewish place.”

Journalist Christopher Schult of the German paper Der Spiegel videoed the incident and shared it on Twitter. Schnabel was stopped as he accompanied German Education Minister Bettina Stark-Watzinger to her car at the Dung Gate. He had not intended to pray at the Western Wall, but rather the group was passing by the outer edge of its exterior plaza.

Schnabel responded that the cross was part of his religious dress code. “I’m a Roman Catholic abbot. You want me to not dress as my faith tells me I should dress.” The Western Wall Heritage Foundation, which controls the Western Wall and its plaza, later apologized.

The apology, however, did not diminish the significance of the incident for Christians, given that it came at a time when they already felt under increasing attack, particularly in Jerusalem’s Old City, where they are highly visible.

Those interviewed by the Magazine said they felt that violence was growing, with incidents of vandalism at the Tomb of the Virgin Mary and the Church of the Flagellation, the Protestant Cemetery, and the Armenian Monastery.

Amir Dan, a spokesperson for the Custodian Terra Santa, said that “Over the last half year, it seems that the extremists feel like they can do whatever they want – as if they have a commission to do this… all over the country, not only in Jerusalem.”

The room of the Last Supper
Last month a Jewish man, who was later arrested, threw a rock through an Ottoman-era window in the Christian Cenacle, known as the Room of the Last Supper.

According to Christian tradition, the Cenacle is where the Last Supper took place, as well as where the Holy Spirit returned following the crucifixion of Christ. The room – a stone room with high arched ceilings – sits on the same site as King David’s Tomb. Visitors include tourists and pilgrims from around the globe. It can be reached by climbing an obscured flight of stairs, passing a lone security guard who sits in a welcome way, and then entering the room, following a short outdoor stretch.

When the Magazine visited the site after the attack, it was packed with dozens of tourists, mostly Christian. On one visit, a Spanish-speaking tour group knelt in prayer before the window.

On another visit, a group of Americans, Latinos, and other international pilgrims, sat with a tour guide, who explained what happened to the window. The crowd gasped. Some held their chests. For them, the site holds immense holiness, and such an act of violence against it would be unfathomable.

“It is shocking,” said Aurel Somlyody, a young Hungarian tourist who had come with a group of friends. The group thought the vandalism had been centuries old. “Doing something like that on purpose – it’s a hate crime,” he said. “Regardless of the religion, if he intended to break the window, even if he was drunk, he should be punished.”

The suspect – a Jewish man in his 30s – was released under restrictive conditions. Some have gone as far as to say that the man could be identified as someone with Jerusalem Syndrome (a mental phenomenon involving religiously themed obsessive ideas, delusions, or other psychosis-like experiences triggered by a visit to the holy city), according to those familiar with the matter….

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