Vandalism at Holy Land abbey caused by small minority, monk says

By Judith Sudilovsky | Catholic News Service

JERUSALEM (CNS) — A Benedictine priest told a Jewish delegation visiting his monastery that the monks know the perpetrators of vandalism represented a small minority of radicalized Jews.

Father Nikodemus Schnabel of the Benedictine Dormition Abbey told a delegation of 12 Jews from the anti-racism group Tag Meir Jan. 23 that an incident in an abbey courtyard was isolated but could have injured monks and students who regularly socialize there.

A bag of construction rubble was heaved over a stone wall separating the monastery from a public garden, breaking a tin roof and smashing plastic furniture Jan. 16, he said.

“I refuse to refer to these people as ‘the Jews attacking the Christians,'” the priest said. “This is not the case. We are speaking of a tiny hateful minority.”

The abbey, built on what is believed to be the spot where Mary died, is located on Mount Zion in the Old City. It has experienced at least five incidents of vandalism and arson since 2013.

It is near a Jewish yeshiva religious and the building which houses the traditional locations of the Cenacle, also known as the Upper Room, and the Tomb of David, a contested site among religious groups.

Father Nikodemus Schnabel, spokesman for the Benedictine Dormition Abbey on Mount Zion in Jerusalemís Old City, talks about the vandalism on the Abbey’s grounds believed caused by radicalized Jews to the Israeli anti-racist Tag Meir group that visited to show solidarity and support Jan. 23, 2022. (CNS photo/Debbie Hill)

Father Schnabel called on the police to take more action against the vandals, who he said were from the extremist group known as “the hilltop youth” who have also been involved in violent attacks on Palestinian farmers and Israeli volunteers near illegal settler outposts in the West Bank.

Rabbi Tamar Elad Applebaum, representing Tag Meir, said she felt ashamed that some Jewish groups feel such behavior is supported in Judaism.

“This has nothing to do with our Jewish tradition,” she said. “Whenever something hurts you, you have to open the door and we want to thank you for opening the door so we can stand with you.”

Jesse Burke, part of the delegation, said members of his family were involved in some of the extremist attacks, also against Jews.

He has taken part in solidarity visits and interreligious dialogue because, he said, he “wants to show a different face of Judaism.”

Savyon Koren-Zisu, police superintendent, said authorities continued to investigate the recent incident.

On Jan. 28, brothers Daoud and Daher Nassar, members of the Lutheran church in Bethlehem, were attacked on their farm outside of the city by a gang of 15 masked men from the neighboring Palestinian village of Nahaleen. They were hospitalized following the attack.

The Nassar family farm — known as the Tent of Nations — is run as a center of reconciliation and nonviolence and is the sole remaining Christian farm in the area, surrounded by Muslim Palestinian villages and Israeli settlements. The Nassars have been engaged in decades of legal battles in Israeli courts to retain possession of their farm and have been harassed by Israeli settlers; they also have been embroiled in a land dispute with a family from Nahaleen. Olive trees on the farm were burned in an arson attack by unknown assailants in late 2021.

In a statement, the family expressed appreciation for the support they were receiving from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land and supporters abroad and said they were “optimistic about the commitment” of the Palestinian Authority to “end the dispute with the utmost of justice and urgency.”

Wadie Abunassar, an adviser to Holy Land churches, has documented vandalism on religious buildings and attacks on non-Jewish people. He said about 5% of the attacks have reached the level of a criminal indictment and that perpetrators who were found guilty received what he considered light sentences.

His list, which he said is not comprehensive, documents 26 acts of vandalism or racism against Christian sites and clergy in Jerusalem; 23 attacks in the rest of Israel; two in Bethlehem, West Bank, and one racist proclamation by the authorities in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip since February 2012.

“Christians … are not the only victims. We believe this is a very dangerous development in Israel and for everyone living in Israel,” he said. “We can see it in Jews attacking Jews and even attacking security personnel. It is important for the Israeli establishment to take measures in this regard against people who think they are above the law.”

Author: Catholic News Service

Catholic News Service is the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ news and information service.

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