Israeli police have arrested at least 16 suspects who are believed to have torched a Catholic church in Israel. The Church of the Multiplication at Tabgha, which is built at the place where Christians believe Jesus miraculously multipled loaves and fishes at the Sea of Galilee, was damaged by fire early on the morning of June 18. Many of the alleged perpetrators are teenaged minors. They are from Jewish settlements in Samarian on the West Bank of the Jordan River. Ten of them are from Yitzhar, which was identified as a bastion of Zionist extremists by the Times of Israel. The group had been hiking in the area and had been camping at Ein Hokuk – a natural spring.
Police spokesperson Luba Samri said in a statement, “In an area near the church, 16 youths were detained for investigation in order to check their involvement in the incident before dawn.” police spokeswoman Luba Samri said in a statement, referring to the Church of the Multiplication at Tabgha in northern Israel. Firefighters doused the fire, where two persons suffered smoke inhalation. Little damage was caused to the church, according to reports, but damage was sustained by the church roof, an event hall and a storage room.
Israeli Interior Minister Silvan Shalom expressed outrage about the attack when he telephoned Father Matthias Karl, the pastor of the parish. Shalom promised to do all he can to bring the alleged criminals to book. “A hate crime like this is unbelievable and unacceptable,” said Shalom. “I apologize personally and on behalf of the state for this extremist attack.”
At the scene of the crime, there was Hebrew graffiti that read, “The false gods will be eliminated” — a quote from the Jewish Aleinu prayer.
The Church of the Multiplication is operated by Catholic Benedictines and is known for its precious mosaics dating to the 5th century. One of the mosaics depicts two fish flanking a basket of loaves. It was there that Jesus fed the 5,000 with his miracle.
Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan said, “This is a cowardly and vile act that I vigorously condemn,” he said. “We will not allow anyone to shake the coexistence between religions and ethnic groups in Israel. It is a blow to the principles of tolerance between religions and a blow to the most essential values of Israel, and we will show no patience for these kinds of acts.”
A member of Israel’s parliament, Zouheir Bahloul of the Zionist Union said he hopes that the incident will not heighten tensions between Israelis of different faiths. “The torching of the church is shocking and directly threatens the democratic nature of Israel,” he said.
In the past, Zionist extremists have carried out similar acts of vandalism against Christian churches and properties in what have been dubbed “price tag” attacks. The term “price tag” is used by Zionist extremists as attacks against non-Jews as retribution by Israeli government actions deemed contrary to the interests of Jewish settlers.
Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Davi Lau denounced the attack, stating that “the aggressive ideologies that arrogate to themselves the right to act with violence like this have in recent years become a black mark for the entire world." He added, "The actions taken this morning, apparently by ignorant and violent cowards, are completely at odds with the values of Judaism and humanity." The rabbi called upon the religious leaders of "these radicals to protect the good relations between religious groups in Israel. The delicate balance between communities must be preserved, and the heads of religious groups must use their positive influence on their congregants. All of us must be on guard not to harm the holy places of any religion.”
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