Christian leaders in Israel are up in arms over a string of attacks on church properties and religious sites, most recently the desecration of a historic Protestant cemetery where vandals toppled stone crosses from graves and bludgeoned them to pieces.
- AP/Huffington Post
The attack in the Protestant Cemetery of Mount Zion, one of Jerusalem's most important historic graveyards, has struck a particularly sensitive nerve because some of the damaged graves belong to famous figures from the 19th and 20th centuries, a key period in Jerusalem's history. Among them are a German diplomat, the founder of an orphanage who was a significant contributor to modernizing the city, and a relative of the owners of a prominent hotel.
Though members of the clergy say interfaith relations between top religious leaders have never been stronger, and police have been more responsive to such attacks in recent years, they say attacks continue unabated. Some activists say not enough is being done to stop them.
"We are striving so hard to promote dignity and respect among the living. And here we have our dead people ... vandalised," said the Very Rev Hosam Naoum, caretaker of the Protestant cemetery. "No human would agree with this."
Police arrested four young Israeli settlers from the West Bank last week, two of them minors, in connection with the cemetery attack, said police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld. But Rosenfeld said the four were subsequently released without charge until further questioning.
Two of the suspects had been banned from entering the West Bank because of their connections to the "hilltop youth," a movement of young Jewish extremists blamed for a spate of attacks in recent years on mosques, Christian sites and Israeli army property to protest government policy.
The four suspects claimed they had entered the cemetery to immerse themselves in a ritual bath there, according to media reports. Rosenfeld could not immediately confirm the reports, and the record of the court session was sealed because minors were involved.
Naoum said the reported alibi was suspect. An ancient Jewish ritual bath was excavated on the premises but it contains no water, and an old well nearby has a narrow opening and would be dangerous to enter, he said.
Photo: a damaged grave after a vandal attack in the Protestant Cemetery of Mt Zion, Jerusalem