The series of attacks and acts of intimidation perpetrated in recent weeks against churches and Christian targets in the Old City of Jerusalem is growing.
On Thursday morning, February 2, 2023, a man – referred to by Israeli media as an “American tourist” – broke into the Chapel of the Condemnation inside the Church of the Flagellation on Via Dolorosa, in the heart of the Christian Quarter in the Old City, and vandalized the statue of Jesus placed there, knocking it to the ground and then hitting it with a hammer.
The man was apprehended and handed over to Israeli police. In videos of his capture, the vandal can be heard shouting loudly that “there can be no idols in Jerusalem, which is the holy city.” Reports released by the Israel Police and relayed by local media link the desecration to the vandal's alleged mental health issues.
At the same time, it should be recalled that in recent weeks the Christian and Armenian neighborhoods of the Old City of Jerusalem have been the scene of a series of acts of intimidation against people and places of worship.
The Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land, after the attack on the Chapel of the Condemnation, issued a statement, signed by Custos Francesco Patton and Secretary Fr. Alberto Joan Pari, “We follow with concern and strongly condemn this growing succession of serious acts of hatred and violence against the Christian community in Israel.”
The Custody’s statement speaks of “hate crimes” and adds: “It is no coincidence that the legitimization of discrimination and violence in public opinion and in the current Israeli political environment also translates into acts of hatred and violence against the Christian community.”
Incidents of violence and intimidation against Christian targets in Jerusalem's Old City have also skyrocketed since Israel's new government, led by Benjamin Netanyahu and also backed by ultra-nationalist religious formations.
Much of the recent wave of violence and intimidation has targeted places and residents in the Armenian Quarter. On January 11, intimidating inscriptions appeared on the walls of buildings in the neighborhood, including the slogans “death to Armenians” and “death to Christians.”
On January 26, about 40 Jewish settlers raided an Armenian restaurant near the New Gate, shouting sacrilegious slogans against Jesus. In the following days, Christian priests and lay people were attacked with spitting and the use of pepper spray in the streets of the Armenian Quarter.
After the attack on the Armenian restaurant, the Catholic bishops of the Holy Land issued a statement deploring “this unprovoked violence” which “sowed fear among merchants and residents of the Christian quarter, as well as among tourists,” adding that this incident was “the latest in a series of episodes of religious violence which strikes the symbols of the Christian community.”
On Friday January 27, Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa, Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, visited the owners of the attacked restaurant and surrounding shops as a sign of solidarity.
The chapel that was vandalized today is part of the Franciscan Convent of the Flagellation and is the first stop on the Via Dolorosa, one of the stations of the cross made by the pilgrims who, during their visit to the holy city, retrace the path of Jesus to Calvary on the day of His crucifixion.