CMEP Bulletin: “Price Tag” Tensions Ahead of Papal Visit
Weekly news bulletin from Churches for Middle East Peace
Tensions are high in Jerusalem over increased acts of vandalism and intimidation by extremist Israelis against several Christian sites ahead of Pope Francis’ visit to the Holy Land from May 25-27. In the latest incident last week, anti-Christian graffiti appeared on the offices of the Assembly of Bishops at the Notre Dame center, a complex owned by the Vatican. The crimes have left many wondering why the Israeli government hasn’t been able to put a stop to them.
These incidents sometimes known as “price tag” attacks, have been a problem for several years. The U.S. State Department defines them as, “property crimes and violent acts by extremist Jewish individuals and groups in retaliation for activity they deemed to be anti-settlement.” According to the Latin Patriarchy of Jerusalem, “the extremists have engaged in assault, threats and vandalism of all kinds, against Christian places of worship, and against Muslim, Palestinian and Israeli Arab villages… They have also attacked Israeli peace activists of left-leaning organizations, [Peace Now]…and even the army itself.” Initially these attacks were confined to the West Bank, but more recently, they have proliferated east of the Green Line, causing more attention
In the most recent attack on May 7, graffiti reading “Death to Arabs and Christians and those who hate Israel” appeared on the offices of the Assembly of Bishops at the Notre Dame center, a complex owned by the Vatican. Pope Francis is set to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the center during his visit. Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem Fouad Twal responded to the incident by saying, “The unrestrained acts of vandalism poison the atmosphere, the atmosphere of coexistence and the atmosphere of collaboration, especially in these two weeks prior to the visit of Pope Francis.”
Patriarch Twal also questioned whether the Israeli government was committed to bringing the perpetrators of these attacks to justice. He said, “Everyone knows the Israeli police set up special units to track attacks like these. In light of the fact that the great majority of vandalism acts do not lead to trials, we must ask if the government is willing to get down to the root of the problem.”
This year, for the first time, the U.S. State Department has included price tag attacks in their annual country reports on terrorism and noted the attacks were “were largely unprosecuted.”
The Economist cites Vatican officials involved in the planning for Pope Francis’ visit that say that Israel is turning Jerusalem into a “military base” and “planning a strict permit regime, insisting that the Holy Father travels in an armored car, with the public kept at arm’s length behind a security cordon” to ensure his safety. In Bethlehem, Palestinian authorities are opening up the streets and providing the pope with an open car.
The extremist attacks have caused outrage among many Israelis. This week, hundreds of Arabs and Jews protested the weak government response in front of the prime minster’s office. Rabbis for Human Rights president Arik Ascherman told the Jerusalem Post, “So often throughout history terrible things happened when good people were silent. It’s good that there is only a small number of people doing this and that our national leadership has condemned it, but what is happening is a desecration to God’s name and antithetical to everything the Torah stands for.”