From acts of spitting and vandalism to instances of assault, numerous attacks have occurred this year targeting Christians in Israel and their sacred sites, contributing to an atmosphere of uncertainty that is prompting concern among both Christian and Jewish leaders.
Starting in January, when nearly 30 graves at a Protestant cemetery on Mount Zion in Jerusalem were desecrated, The Jerusalem Post reports that a series of anti-Christian incidents have taken place in the holy city.
These include a group of around twelve Orthodox Jews causing upheaval at the Taboon Armenian restaurant by overturning tables and throwing chairs; a Jewish American tourist knocking over a statue of Jesus at the Church of the Flagellation; two Jewish men assaulting a bishop and two priests during Mass at the Church of Gethsemane; two Jewish pedestrians using pepper spray on a young man outside an Armenian convent; and a Jewish man breaking a window at the Cenacle or Upper Room on Mount Zion—traditionally believed to be the location of the Last Supper by Jesus and the apostles.
On August 9, Israeli President Isaac Herzog paid a visit to the Stella Maris Monastery in Haifa, following a series of attempts by a faction of ultra-Orthodox Jews to forcibly enter the Catholic holy site because they believe the prophet Elijah’s burial site lies beneath the monastery.
“I come here on behalf of the entire state and people of Israel to reinforce our commitment to the full protection of freedom of religion and worship in the State of Israel,” Herzog said.
“In recent months we have seen very serious incidents against the Christian denominations in the Holy Land, our brothers and sisters, Christian citizens who feel attacked in the places of prayer, in the cemeteries, on the street,” said Herzog. “I view this phenomenon extremely seriously—it is unacceptable in any way.”
During the annual New Year’s reception for spiritual and lay leaders of Christian churches and communities held on December 29, 2022, Herzog affirmed that the government would uphold freedom of religion and worship, safeguarding the rights of all religious communities and minorities that “make up the beautiful human mosaic of our country.”
Focusing on unparalleled political turmoil triggered by the outcome of Israel’s December 2022 election, which resulted in a government largely led by nationalists and ultra-Orthodox Jews, Israeli authorities have showed minimal concern about the attacks against Christians, according to church leaders.
Bishop Rafic Nahra, Catholic Patriarchal Vicar for Israel, criticized police reaction to the crimes as ineffective. “If synagogues were being attacked,” he told Religion News Service, “the response would be stronger.”
On Pentecost Sunday in Jerusalem May 28, a number of Orthodox Jews encircled Christians engaged in prayer at the Southern Steps, a remnant of the monumental stairway leading to a temple that was once a central religious and cultural site for the Jewish people.
The crowd leveled accusations of missionary activities against the Christians, and a handful of the demonstrators resorted to physical assaults.
“In the 30 years I have lived in Israel, I have never seen such hatred and anger in someone’s eyes,” said Juergen Buehler, executive director of the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem, an evangelical group active in Israel.
Israeli legislators apologized for the incident at the Jerusalem Prayer Breakfast, an annual event that brings religious and political leaders together to pray and discuss matters related to faith, politics, and international relations.
“This behavior is completely unacceptable in my eyes,” said M.K. Matan Kahana, a former minister of religious affairs, addressing the assembly. “I would like to take this opportunity to apologize for this behavior on behalf of the Knesset.”