Attempted Arson at the Basilica of the Agony in Jerusalem

December 17, 2020
The facade of the Basilica of the Agony

On the afternoon of December 4, 2020, at the very moment when the enthronement ceremony of Bishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa as the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem was taking place in the Basilica of the Holy Sepulcher, an incendiary attack was carried out in the Basilica of the Agony, located at the foot of the Mount of Olives.

Israel Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said very laconically that “police units (had) arrested a forty-nine-year-old man accused of pouring flammable liquid inside the church building causing a certain amount of “damage” to the building.

The firefighter spokesman said he had dispatched four teams to the scene, with the fire having “fortunately not spread throughout the church.” Except that thick black smoke had spread and blackened pews, as shown in a photo taken by an Afp photographer.

According to the spokesman for the Churches of the Holy Land, Wadie Abunassar, the suspect is “an Orthodox Jew who set fire to the interior of the church,” built not far from Gethsemane, the place where Jesus prayed before to be betrayed by Judas, and arrested.

“We thank God for the rapid extinction of the fire,” added Wadie Abunassar, before calling on the authorities of the Jewish state to “seriously” investigate the incident, citing possible “racist motivations,” in order to explain the criminal’s action.

The Israeli press has confirmed that the alleged perpetrator is a Jew residing in Gilo, one of the Jewish settlements built in recent years in the Palestinian territories between Jerusalem and Bethlehem.

The Palestinian Authority, based in Ramallah, West Bank, was quick to condemn a “heinous terrorist attack,” holding Israel responsible for “attacks against Palestinians, their holy places and their property,” in the words of the Palestinian Authority, the official Wafa agency.

More measured, the Jordanian government deplored the attack, limiting itself to reminding the Israeli authorities, qualified as an “occupying power” to kindly “respect their obligations under international law as regards the protection of places of worship.”

The Jordanian State took the opportunity to reaffirm the role claimed by the Hashemite kingdom, of “protector” of the holy places of Christianity and Islam in the Holy City: a way of opposing any form of recovery on the part of the Palestinian Authority and especially of Iran, very present in the region, thanks to the activism of Hezbollah militias.

On the Sunday following the attack, December 6, the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem came to the Basilica of the Agony, to celebrate a Mass of reparation for the sacrilegious outrages that had taken place in the building.