Israeli police and internal security fear hate crimes in advance of Pope Francis' visit

Just weeks before an historic visit to Jerusalem by Pope Francis, anti-Christian graffiti was scrawled on a wall adjacent to a Catholic church on Hahoma Hashlishit Street in Jerusalem in what Israeli media is calling the latest in a series of hate crimes. The graffiti read "Price tag, King David is for the Jews, Jesus is garbage." The term ‘price-tag’ is used by Jewish extremists who see their acts of vandalism as retribution for crimes committed against Jews and the Israeli government’s perceived favoritism towards Palestinians. Another graffito, reading ‘Death to Arabs’ was written on the door and electrical box of a home in the Old City of Jerusalem. Israeli police have initiated an investigation. 
 
The words “Death to Arabs and Christians and all those who hate Israel” were written in Hebrew on a column of the Office of the Assembly of Bishops at the Notre Dame Center in East Jerusalem. The assembly administers properties in Israel belonging to the Vatican. Catholic authorities have asked Israel to step up the security of the holy places in Israel, having expressed concern over the recent spike in attacks on churches and monasteries. The Custody of the Holy Land, a Catholic authority, expressed concern about recent attacks and said the violence appears to be connected to the Pope’s proximate visit. It asked Israeli authorities to "work urgently against extremist elements," ensure peace, and protect the holy places.
 
The Israel Police and the Shin Bet – Israel’s internal security agency - fear that right-wing Jewish extremists might try to exploit Pope Francis' May 24-26 visit to the Holy Land by committing significant hate crimes and thus derive media attention. Pope Francis is due to visit Israel, Jordan, the West Bank and Jerusalem. He will meet Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew in Jerusalem.
 
‘Price-tag’ attacks against mosques, churches, Israeli peace advocates, and even Israeli military installations have been targeted by the extremists in recent years. Jewish-Christian interfaith groups, for instance, have strongly condemned the attacks and the groups responsible.
 
Justice Minister Tzipi Livni has said the extremists "want to prevent us from living here in any reasonable way." Speaking in a radio interview on May 9, Livni described the extremists as a small, "hard-core group that doesn't accept the rule of law." She added, "Politically, they are the ones that will prevent us from reaching a peace agreement." 
 
Israeli police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said on May 8 that a 25-year-old Jewish extremist had been arrested, who confessed to involvement in at least 10 acts of vandalism aimed at non-Jews. Police have  "stepped up" patrols and surveillance across the country, said Rosenfeld, while thousands of police officers would be deployed during Francis’s  visit. The pontiff will be accompanied by the leader of the Maronite Catholic Church, Patriarch Beshara al-Rai, among other Vatican officials. Patriarch Beshara al-Rai was elected in 2011 to head the Maronite Catholic Church, which is one of the 22 different rites within the Catholic Church in communion with the See of Rome. Speaking to AFP, the patriarch said, “The pope is going to the Holy Land and Jerusalem…He is going to the diocese of the patriarch, so it’s normal that the patriarch should welcome him.”


Spero News editor Martin Barillas is a former US diplomat, who also worked as a democracy advocate and election observer in Latin America. He is also a freelance translator.

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