Religious nationalism Middle East | 23 February 2023

Israel: 2023 brings surge of aggression against Christians in Jerusalem

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At the beginning of 2023, the Christian community in Israel was shaken by several acts of aggression, mainly targeting Armenians in Jerusalem. For instance, All Israel News reported on 13 January 2023 that Jewish radicals had scrawled graffiti on buildings in the Armenian quarter of the Old City using such wording as “Death to Christians” and “Death to Arabs and Pagans”. According to All Israel News reporting on 2 February 2023, dozens of religious Jews vandalized a restaurant owned by Armenian Christians by throwing tables and chairs, causing customers to flee in panic. All Israel News also reported on 2 February that an American Jewish tourist had been arrested on suspicion of vandalizing a statue of Jesus in a church on the Via Dolorosa and that the "series of attacks began on January 1 when two religious Jews broke into and vandalized dozens of gravestones in a Protestant cemetery".

World Watch Research analyst Henriette Kats comments: “There are more reports of such aggression and harassment than those listed above. For instance, a young Armenian man was attacked with pepper-spray, Jewish girls were seen tearing down funeral notices from an Armenian convent, a Jewish man was caught urinating at the entrance of the convent and Armenian priests have also been regularly spat upon by Jewish passers-by. Furthermore, ‘extremists have been distributing flyers around the Quarter inciting violence against Armenians’, according to a member of the Armenian community. It is not inconceivable that the radical Jewish perpetrators feel emboldened by the new government which took office in December 2022, since it is regarded as being the most right-wing administration ever.”

Henriette Kats continues: “This is not the first time that such attacks on Christians and Christian property have taken place: There were similar spikes in 2020 and 2021 which prompted leaders of Jerusalem’s historical churches to publish a joint-statement on this threat to the Christian presence ‘by fringe radical groups’ (Orthodox Times, 16 December 2021). At that time, the perpetrators were of both Jewish and Arab background, but now in 2023 it seems to be mainly Jewish radicals causing the incidents. This is a development that needs close monitoring and the local police are indeed planning to pay extra attention to such ‘nationalistic crimes’ (All Israel, News, 2 February 2023). However, Armenian Christians in Jerusalem are amazed that this violence could have taken place in the Armenian quarter, located so close to the Kishleh police station. They have also complained that harassment, such as being spat at and verbally abused, has been a daily occurrence for years, while ‘the police have so far failed to provide even a minimal response’ (The Jerusalem Post, 17 February 2023).

Henriette Kats adds: “It is important to mention that this type of violence is not supported by wider Israeli society: Several Jewish groups have shown their support for the Christian community, for instance by planning a ‘solidarity tour’ of the desecrated cemetery and one through the Armenian Quarter (All Israel News, 2 February 2023).”


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