Shalom Life | June 21, 2015

Hate Crime Suspected in Burning of Sea of Galilee Church

Attacked church is where Jesus' miracle of multiplying two fish and five loaves of bread to feed 5000 people took place

By: B. Shane Morganstein

Published: June 19th, 2015 in News » Israel

Photo: Church of the Multiplication at Tabgha


Police are suspecting that arson was the cause of a fire that has damaged the Church of the Multiplication at Tabgha, on the sea of Galilee early Thursday.

Firefighters were able to successfully subdue the blaze, and two people who were inside the church only suffered minor smoke inhalation. Little damage was done to the church, as the fire was mainly on the roof. However there was slight damage done to a book storage room, a banquet hall, and some offices.

The church is a significant place of worship for Christians around the world, as it is considered the place where Jesus' miracle of multiplying two fish and five loaves of bread to feed 5000 people took place. In the entrance corridor of the church, Hebrew graffiti was found that read "the false gods will be eliminated" - a quote from the Jewish prayer Aleinu.

In the past, right-wing Jewish extremist groups have carried out similar arson attacks and graffiti-desecrations on Christian holy sites, as well as Arab properties in the West Bank and Jerusalem under the "price tag" slogan.

The "price tag" slogan refers to acts of vandalism against non-Jews or their property, usually in retribution for Palestinian terror attacks or Israeli government actions that oppose the interests of Israeli settlers.

Lt. (res.) Shadi Halul, who acts as head of the Christian IDf Officers Forum, believes that those responsible for the fire are mistaken if they think that arson and graffiti benefit their cause.

"If they think this is how they can help themselves and strengthen their own beliefs then I just want to say it only damages their beliefs and damages their justice, and the justification for their being here in this land."

Halul also added that for the many tourists who visit the church every year, such an act presents the opposite image of democracy and coexistence that Israelis want to present to the world.

"If in this case Jewish zealots are fingered, the, first of all, they clearly don’t represent all the Jews. They're criminals who should be in prison and not walking around freely."

Chief Superintendant of Tiberias Police believes it to be too early to speculate regarding the culprits. "We are really at the beginning of the process and we still don’t have any leads," he said.

This attacks is only one of many in recent years. A Romanian Orthodox Church on Hahoma Hashlishit Street in Jerusalem in May 2014 was defaced in a hate attack. The words "price tag," "Jesus is garbage," and "King David for the Jews" were spray-painted on the walls of the church.

Similar graffiti was found on Vatican-owned buildings in Jerusalem, just two weeks before the Pope's visit to Israel.

Israeli officials consider these types of vandalism to be "terrorism" and have vowed to fight against this surge in graffiti and arson.

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