Jump in attacks on Christians in Jerusalem in 2023 'connected to far-right government'
One priest reportedly claimed to have been spat on over 90 times so far this year, with local faith leaders connecting the issue to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's new government, which came to power in December and includes far-right parties such as Jewish Power.
Israeli police have failed to tackle the issue, church sources told Haaretz, and won't recognise the attacks as part of a new trend, with just a fraction of cases getting reported.
"It is no coincidence that the legitimisation of discrimination and violence in public opinion and in the current Israeli political environment also translates into acts of hatred against the Christian community," read a February statement from two leaders in the Custodia Terrae Sanctae, a Catholic organisation tasked with preserving the Holy Land's Christian sacred sites.
It came after a man the statement described as a "radical Jew" brought down a statue of Jesus in the Church of the Flagellation.
The priests mentioned other cases, including an attack on tourists by religious Jews.
"They committed acts of vandalism… throwing chairs, tables and glasses and transforming the Christian Quarter [of occupied East Jerusalem's Old City] into a battlefield," the Custodia Terrae Sanctae leaders said.
"We expect and demand that the Israeli government and law enforcement agencies act decisively to guarantee security for all communities, to guarantee the protection of religious minorities and to eradicate religious fanaticism."
An Armenian priest said there had been spat on more than 90 times so far in 2023, according to the Jerusalem Inter-Church Center.
Armenian clergy often bear the brunt of the violence given their community is situated close to the Old City's Jewish Quarter and wear distinguishing dress, according to John Munayer of the interreligious Rossing Center for Education and Dialogue.
"The believers suffer spitting, pushing, blows on the head and curses, occasionally graffiti is sprayed and there are more serious attacks inside the churches," he said.
"People think twice whether to walk through this alley or the other."
The Israeli police maintained that a list of instances Haaretz reported of Christians being targeted had been taken care of swiftly and decisively, saying arrests had been made in the majority of cases – with charges brought for some.
"Alongside increased activity in the area of the Old City, houses of worship and religious sites through a variety of police forces to maintain security, order and freedom of worship for members of all religions and denominations, we will continue to act against criminals until they are brought to justice," the police were quoted as saying.