A Roman Catholic bishop in Jerusalem says he's afraid that Jewish extremists are now posing an increasing threat to Christians in the Holy Land after an arson attack last Thursday at a local church in Tabgha, an area believed to be where Jesus performed the miracle of the feeding of the 5,000.
The warning "all idols will be smashed" — an extract from a Jewish prayer — was also sprayed in red paint on a wall outside the church, according to a report from Aid to the Church in Need.
Auxiliary Bishop William Shomali of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem told Aid to the Church in Need that the attack on the Catholic Church of the Multiplication of the Loaves near the Sea of Galilee, which left a Benedictine monk and visitor with smoke inhalation, has heightened his concern that extremists are targeting other faith groups, particularly Christians.
"There is a real escalation in the anti-Christian violence, from a small fire which leaves little damage to a bigger fire and finally to an arson which intends to produce great damage and even killing," said Shomali. "We are allowed to ask: what will happen next?"
"I am inclined to think that the act is perpetrated by a very small and aggressive group. … I cannot put all Israelis in the same basket, since there are the liberal and intolerant Jews, those who are less [tolerant], and finally those who hate the non-Jews. … My fear is that these radicals are increasing in number and in the degree of intolerance," Shomali noted.
Many buildings on the holy site including a souvenir shop, an office for pilgrims, and a meeting room were said to have been badly damaged in the blaze which destroyed Bibles and prayer books.
Nicole Jansezian, director of Christian friends of Shalva, an organization in Jerusalem that cares for children with special needs regardless of race or religion, told The Christian Post in an interview early Tuesday that she believes Israel is quite safe for Christians.
"While the attack was tragic and shows that some extremists have a racist and antiquated view of Christianity, Israel is still the only country in the Middle East where Christians are safe and not under threat of persecution. We live and worship in freedom and are very rarely, if at all, threatened by the Jewish majority," she said.
She noted, however, that altercations between religious Jews and priests in the Old City are ongoing.
"Does this show an escalating cycle of violence in Israel vs. Christians? I don't know the answer to that question and I haven't been affected, personally. I do feel safe and integrated into society though, despite religious differences," she added.
Israeli President Reuven Rivlin condemned the attack hours after it occurred and insisted that the Holy Land would remain a place for all faiths, according to the report.
"Such terrible desecration of an ancient and holy place of prayer is an attack on the very fabric of life in our country," said Rivlin.
"Israel, as a state and a society, is obligated to protect and preserve the holy sites, for all faiths," he added.