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Holy Land Christians decry lack of action against church vandals

(Wikimedia Commons/Kippi70)The St. Stephen Church at the Bet Gemal monastery in Israel.

Christians in Jerusalem are lamenting the lack of legal action regarding the wave of church desecrations that has occurred in the city in the past few years.

Over 80 incidents of vandalism against churches and Christian sites have been recorded in the past decade, according to Wadie Abunassar, the adviser to the Assembly of Catholic Ordinaries of the Holy Land. But in most cases, no arrests or indictments have been made against perpetrators.

In the latest incident that took place on Sept. 20, unidentified vandals smashed a statue of the Virgin Mary and damaged furniture inside Stephen's Church in the Beit Jamal Monastery, near Beit Shemesh. It was the third time the Catholic church had been damaged by vandals in recent years, according to Times of Israel.

A statement condemning the desecration has been issued by the Assembly of Catholic Ordinaries of the Holy Land, but some people have criticized its "weak language" and asked, "How long will we be tolerant?"

"Unfortunately, in these situations we feel how vulnerable we are," one commenter on Facebook wrote.

Salesian Fr. Antonio Scudu, the caretaker of the church, noted that the monastery is open for visitors, and it generally has no problems with its Jewish neighbors, including the residents of an ultra-Orthodox town.

"I was shocked," Scudu said, as reported by Catholic News Service. "I didn't expect to see something like this. The church is always open. If you see what happened, you feel they did it with hate. They smashed everything," he added.

In 2013, a firebomb was thrown at the monastery's door and hateful slogans, such as phrases like "price tag," "death to the Gentiles," and "revenge," were scrawled on the walls. In January 2016, vandals toppled dozens of crosses at Beit Jamal's cemetery.

Bishop Boulos Marcuzzo said that the attack was "not only an act of vandalism but an action against the sacredness of the holy places and the faith of people."

"The Holy Land is deep [with] faith and culture. We must live together with the diversity of beliefs. It is absolutely necessary to accept others, to accept each other in our diversity," Marcuzzo said in a church statement.

Israel Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said that the authorities are investigating the latest incident to see if an individual or a group was responsible.

He noted that the authorities do not believe that there is some sort of "vandalism cell" operating against Christian and Muslim holy sites.

Abunassar contended that arresting the perpetrators would prevent such incidents from recurring. He suggested that incitement charges must also be brought against those who encourage such actions, including several prominent extremist rabbis.

The Public Security Ministry has documented 53 cases of vandalism against Christian and Muslim sites in Israel and the West Bank since 2009. But out of the 53 cases, only eight are still under investigation. According to Haaretz, only nine indictments have been filed so far and only seven convictions have been handed down.

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