A right-wing religious group has left it’s mark once again on a Jerusalem church. “Jesus, son of a bitch” was found on the front door of the Franciscan monastery on Mount Zion less than a month after the same group vandalized the Latrun Monastery. Some Christians in Israel are getting concerned.
Similar acts of vandalism have occurred around the country by the group known as “price tag” gang, but only recently did they begin to target churches. The group from Judea and Samaria are known to be frustrated with government policies in the disputed territories. In July 2008, a small group of settlers refused to allow the Israeli army to tear down their illegal outpost. After a violent struggle with soldiers, the group sprayed the label “price tag” on IDF bases. They want people to understand that there will be a “price to pay” for uprooting Jewish settlers from the area.
The group has also been responsible for acts of violence against Arabs. These have come in response to Arab attacks on Jews, particularly in Judea and Samaria. For years Jewish settlers have expressed their frustration with the lack of army protection and poor security in in the area. The price-tag group felt it was time to take matters into their own hands and committed a number of violent attacks on Arabs and vandalized mosques.
Since January of this year the group has been targeting churches, including a Baptist Church and Orthodox and Catholic church properties around Jerusalem. The motivation for these attacks is unclear. Most likely the group are trying to draw attention to themselves by stirring up religious tensions in the city. This kind of vandalism provokes strong reactions.
The Vatican’s top official in Israel, Rev. Peirbattista Pizzaballa, called the attack a result of Israel’s derogatory attitude towards Christians. “When you say Christianity to Israelis they immediately think of the Holocaust and Inquisition,” he said. Though Israeli Shimon Peres immediately condemned the attacks and police are searching for the perpetrators, church officials have said Israel is not doing enough.
A Franciscan representative in Jerusalem said that Israel must do more to eliminate the “price tag” phenomenon. "The attempts to damage monasteries and the spray-painting of inflammatory graffiti against Christianity, which have occurred repeatedly recently, are an insult to the hundreds of millions of Christian faithful throughout the world, and the State of Israel cannot allow such grave acts to occur," he said, according to a recent statement published in Israel's Haaretz newspaper.
Messianic Jews in Israel also responded to the incidents. “It is true that our government is not protecting the settlers,” said a Messianic leader in Jerusalem. “People are frustrated and angry, but these acts of vandalism on the church are crude and childish,” he said, noting that “these are minor provocations from a tiny group only looking for attention.” One expert said that the graffiti was clearly the handwriting of a very young person.
Some Messianics are more concerned about the price tag group targeting churches. “Our young people are not taught to respect minorities,” said a Messianic youth leader, “especially in some of our right-wing religious schools. Some of these religious schools are not under supervision from the government.”
“It is time the Israelis understand that the Church is no longer our enemy,” said Yaacov, a Messianic Jewish leader at “Yad b’Yad,” the German and Israeli youth exchange program. “The days of the Inquisition and Crusaders were a long time ago. It is time we break down the old prejudices between Christians and Jews. Targeting Jerusalem churches with anti-Christian graffiti is foolish but it does stir up these old wounds.”
While Christian churches in Israel enjoy a privileged status, tensions still exist, and groups like the “price tag” gang easily exploit these tensions to their own advantage. As one Messianic leader suggested, it would be better to simply ignore these childish provocations. “The more attention we give them,” he said, “the more harm they can cause.”