Arsonists damage Israel church
Grafitti about eradicating ‘idols’ is painted on a wall; hate crime is suspected.
JERUSALEM — Fire damaged a landmark Christian site in Israel early Thursday in what police suspect is the latest in a series of hate crimes against non-Jewish targets throughout the country, drawing widespread condemnation and international concern from Christian groups.
Police and firefighters called to the Church of the Multiplication of the Loaves and Fish at Tabgha, by the Sea of Galilee, doused the blaze, which started from the roof and damaged several rooms, including one used for book storage and the nuns’ office.
A verse from the daily Jewish prayer wishing the eradication of “idols” was spray-painted on a wall.
Two of the dozen volunteers on the premises were hospitalized for smoke inhalation, according to Tiberias police Chief Ran Levy, who told journalists that officers were investigating the “grave incident.”
Police Commissioner Yohanan Danino promised to “do everything ” to find the perpetrators. A group of Jewish religious students from the West Bank hiking in the general area were taken in for questioning but released later in the day.
Authorities said the small church community had just begun the day with prayers when the fire broke out at 4 a.m.
The church, which draws tourists from around the world, is in a modern complex built over the site of a 4th century church that was rebuilt in the 5th century. It marks the site where Jesus is said to have fed multitudes with just a few fish and loaves of bread.
Condemnation for the attack came from across the political spectrum and from Jews and Arabs alike.
President Reuven Rivlin spoke with Father Gregory Collins, head of the Benedictine order in Israel that runs the site.
“Such terrible desecration of an ancient and holy place of prayer is an attack on the very fabric of life in our country,” said Rivlin, who emphasized that Israel was obligated to protect the sites holy to all faiths and conveyed his sympathy to the community.
According to Tag Meir, an nongovernmental agency dedicated to combating such acts, 43 churches and mosques have been desecrated since 2009.
“Desecrating a church in Israel is as grave as violating a synagogue in Paris or Warsaw,” the group wrote on Facebook.
A CHRISTIAN CLERIC inspects the damage at the Church of the Multiplication of the Loaves and Fish at Tabgha, on the shore on the Sea of Galilee in Israel.