Israeli police arrest Orthodox Jews suspected of spitting on Christian pilgrims in Jerusalem

Beautiful sunset at the Jaffa Gate, Old City, Jerusalem.
Beautiful sunset at the Jaffa Gate, Old City, Jerusalem. | Unsplash/Laura Siegal

Is it the latest sign of rising anti-Christian sentiment in Israel or simply an ancient Jewish religious custom?

Police in Israel arrested five Orthodox Jews Wednesday for allegedly spitting at Christian pilgrims in the Old City of Jerusalem, the Times of Israel reported.

The spitting incidents targeted priests and pilgrims in the Old City, taking part in events commemorating the day of Sukkot or the Feast of Tabernacles.

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One incident captured Monday involved a group of Asian worshippers spat upon as they passed by a group of Jews — including children — while carrying a large cross out of a church.


In another incident, four Orthodox Jews were caught on video spitting upon the entrance of a church during a Jewish procession in the Old City, according to the Times of Israel.

In that video, several participants in the procession can be seen pausing and spitting in the direction of the church's entrance.


Police said the arrests resulted from a "special investigation team" set up by the head officer of the Jerusalem District, Superintendent Doron Turgeman, to "deal with the phenomenon of spitting and expressions of hatred in the Old City against Christians."

In addition, using both "overt and covert" means, the investigative unit was looking at potentially imposing "administrative fines" for anyone involved in "displays of hatred towards anyone, Jews, Muslims or Christians in the Old City and anywhere else in Jerusalem."

In a statement, Turgeman added, "Those who do this have a serious problem first of all in education, worldview and respect for others. We condemn the ugly phenomenon that harms the unique fabric of life that has existed in the area for many years."

The spitting incidents were condemned by Israeli politicians, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Minister of Foreign Affairs Eli Cohen — who said the "phenomenon does not represent the values ​​of Judaism." However, others believe that law enforcement is making the issue out to be more significant than it is.

National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir suggested re-education efforts rather than arrests might be a more appropriate response.

"I still think spitting at Christians is not a criminal case," Ben Gvir, the minister in charge of police, said in an interview with The Times of Israel. "I think we need to act on it through instruction and education. Not everything justifies an arrest."

While he believes the incidents were "deserving of every condemnation," Gvir voiced concern that such reporting of the incidents could lead to "slandering Israel."

Right-wing Israeli settler Elisha Yered took it one step further by describing the practice of spitting upon Christians as "an ancient and longstanding Jewish custom."

Yered, who is suspected in the August murder of a Palestinian teen in the biblical region known as Judea and Samaria, now known as the West Bank, wrote a Hebrew tweet translated as: "Perhaps under the influence of Western culture we have somewhat forgotten what Christianity is, but I think that the millions of Jews who went through Crusades in exile, Inquisition tortures, blood plots and mass pogroms — will never forget."

The Israeli settler then shared a controversial quote from a book by Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook, the first chief rabbi of Palestine under the League of Nations mandate in 1948, which is translated in English as, "In my youth, I would feel a stench of a lavatory from the prayer houses of other nations, even though they were supposedly very clean, and stood within a garden of planted trees."

The Chief Rabbi of Israel, David Lau, challenged the settler's claim that spitting and other actions are rooted in historical Judaism and clarified that on Sukkot during the Temple era, "the Jewish people would pray and offer sacrifices in the Temple for the peace of the 70 nations of the world."

"We too, nowadays, will continue to pray for them and respect all the nations that come to honor the Holy City of Jerusalem. I strongly condemn harm to any person and any religious leader. These immoral phenomena have certainly nothing to do with Jewish law," he said in a statement.

In July, an Israeli journalist who disguised himself as a priest was mocked and spat upon in the Old City as part of an undercover "priest for a day" report into Jewish public animosity against Christians in Jerusalem.

Yossi Eli, a reporter with Israel's Channel 13 News, said he was assailed "by a child and a soldier" within minutes of donning a brown priest's robe and walking with a clergyman in the Old City, according to Haaretz

According to the report, a man was heard saying mockingly in Hebrew, "Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned," as the pair walked by. Moments later, they were spat on first by an 8-year-old child and then by a soldier while passing by several troops.

Earlier this year, Jewish extremists targeted a Catholic monastery of the Benedictine Order in Jerusalem. They destroyed a statue of Jesus in the Church of the Flagellation on the famous Via Dolorosa, where Jesus is believed to have carried His cross on the way to Golgotha.

According to tradition, the church was built on the space believed to be where Jesus was flogged by the Roman soldiers back in the first century and presented with a cross to carry.

Ian M. Giatti is a reporter for The Christian Post and the author of BACKWARDS DAD: a children's book for grownups. He can be reached at:

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