Extremist Israeli settlers on Thursday burned part of the church at the site where Christians believe Jesus performed a miracle by feeding 5,000 people with five loaves of bread and two fish on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, the Israeli fire brigade said.
A verse from a Hebrew prayer denouncing the worship of “false gods” was spray painted in red on a church wall, suggesting Jewish zealots were responsible.
“Firefighters arrived at the scene … and (the fire) was put out, but extensive damage was caused to the church both inside and out,” police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said.
According to Reuters, a spokesman for the fire brigade said a preliminary investigation showed the blaze broke out in several places inside the church, evidence that it was started deliberately.
Ashrawi: This is a direct outcome of Israel’s policies of discrimination and exclusion
PLO Executive Committee Member Dr. Hanan Ashrawi in a statement strongly denounced the act of torching the historic Church of the Multiplication at Tabgha, saying that “This deplorable act is not an isolated incident; it is part of a prevalent culture of hate, and an expression of an ongoing pattern of extremism, violence and impunity; it is an attack on all Palestinians, their narrative, culture, and historical/religious sites.”
In response to Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipt Hotovely who claimed that Israel ‘respects freedom of worship for all religions and opposes any attack on this freedom,’ Dr. Ashrawi stressed:
“Such an act of vandalism is the direct result of Israel’s language of exclusion, its disregard for human rights and the dehumanization of the Palestinian people, and it is also an outcome of Israel’s official policies that blatantly discriminate against both Christian and Muslim Palestinians. If Israel respected ‘freedom of worship for all religions,’ it would not systematically prevent Palestinian Muslims and Christians from entering Jerusalem and praying at their holy sites, among other violations.
Ashrawi called on all members of the international community to undertake immediate action, hold Israel accountable and bring an end to Israeli expressions of religious intolerance, bigotry and discrimination.
The limestone Church of the Multiplication of the Loaves and Fishes, on the northwest shore of the Sea of Galilee, was constructed in the 1980s and is overseen by the Benedictine Order. It was built on the site of 4th and 5th century churches that commemorated what Christian faithful revere as Jesus’s miraculous feeding of five thousand people with five loaves of bread and two fish.
The Rabbis for Human Rights group said there have been 43 similar attacks against churches, mosques and monasteries in Israel and the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem since 2009, Reuters said.
Dozens of arrests have been made in such cases, but there have been few indictments and convictions, with police and prosecutors acknowledging that the young age of many of the suspected perpetrators has led courts to show leniency.