Israeli police arrested two teens from central Israel for the “deliberate” vandalism of a Christian cemetery in Jerusalem that resulted in damage to roughly 30 graves earlier this month.
In a statement, police said they had launched an investigation after receiving the report of the destruction and discovered that “this was a deliberate act of vandalism. After several investigative acts, two suspects were arrested…, aged 14 and 18, both residents of central Israel.”
Police did not identify the suspects or detail their alleged motivation.
The statement said that Jerusalem District Police Commander Doron Turgeman met with the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem, Theophilos III, to update him on the investigation into the incident at the Protestant Mount Zion Cemetery.
“Every attack on religious sites or institutions is serious and harms the unique and fragile fabric of life that exists in the city for members of all faiths and sects,” Turgeman was quoted as telling the Patriarch.
The announcement of the arrest came following international condemnation of the vandalism, including from the U.S.
“Concerned to see a Mt. Zion Holy Site targeted again. We spoke with the Churches, and welcome Israeli, PA, and the intl. community calls for accountability. Religious site vandalism by anyone is unacceptable. Jerusalem must be a city for all of its people,” the U.S. Office of Palestinian Affairs wrote on its Twitter account.
The Biden administration’s antisemitism envoy, Deborah Lipstadt, tweeted: “I condemn this despicable act. Desecration of any and all holy sites is unacceptable, and the sanctity of burial must be respected. Families have the right to peacefully lay to rest loved ones.”
“We must work together to call out all forms of hate whenever and wherever they occur,” she added.
Widely shared security camera footage showed two young men — both wearing Jewish skullcaps and tzitzit, the knotted ritual fringes worn by observant Jews — breaking into the cemetery, knocking over stone crosses and smashing and stomping on tombstones, leaving a trail of debris and broken headstones.
Samuel Gobat, then-bishop of Jerusalem, opened the cemetery in 1848. It is now owned by the Church Missionary Trust Association Ltd, an Anglican organization.
Gobat’s grave was among those damaged along with those belonging to three British Mandate police officers.
The Foreign Ministry denounced the attack as an “immoral act” and “an affront to religion.” Jerusalem’s Anglican Archbishop Hosam Naoum called it a “clear hate crime.” The British consulate said it was just the latest in a string of assaults on the Christian community in the Holy City of Jerusalem.
On Jan. 5, the Greater Pittsburgh Jewish Clergy Association and the Community Relations Council of the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh released the following statement: “We, the Greater Pittsburgh Jewish Clergy Association, condemn unequivocally the heinous desecration of graves in a Protestant Cemetery in Jerusalem this week. We also decry the rise in violent acts by Jewish extremists against non-Jews in Israel. We reject any justification for acts that target any religious sites in Israel. We stand with our friends and allies in the Christian and Muslim communities against all religious violence.”
Mount Zion, associated in Christian tradition with the site of the Last Supper that Jesus shared with his disciples before his crucifixion, is also sacred to Jews and Muslims and has been at the center of competing religious claims throughout the decades-long conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.
In December 2021, Christian leaders in the Holy Land warned that their communities are under threat of being driven from the region by extremist Israeli radical groups, and called for dialogue on preserving their presence.
Patriarchs and heads of churches in Jerusalem issued a joint statement similarly warning of the danger posed by radical groups they said are aiming at “diminishing the Christian presence.”
Extremist Jewish activists have for years carried out vandalism against Christian sites in Jerusalem and other areas of Israel, including hate graffiti and arson. The extremists also target Palestinians. PJC
The Associated Press contributed to this report. The Pittsburgh Jewish Chronicle also contributed to this report.