JERUSALEM — Holy Land church leaders expressed concern in the wake of two separate incidents involving the Christian community that occurred over a one-week span.
Monks of the Salesian Monastery at Beit Jamal west of Jerusalem discovered the evening of Oct. 16 that their cemetery had been vandalized, including broken crosses and damage to tombs.
The monastery, which has good relations with its Jewish neighbors, was vandalized two years ago, and in 2017, vandals desecrated the monastery’s church.
No suspects have been arrested in either case.
“It is of regret and anger to see ourselves busy condemning such criminal acts, which were repeated many times in recent years, while we almost don’t see security and/or educational treatment to this dangerous phenomenon by the state authorities, especially while top officials in the country claim as if Christians are doing very well in it,” said the Assembly of the Catholic Ordinaries of the Holy Land in a statement.
The group called on Israeli authorities to increase efforts to find the culprits and for more public education campaigns to prevent future attacks.
About 50 incidents of vandalism on Christian holy sites have occurred in the last six years, according to several sources.
The ordinaries called on people to “learn to coexist with each other in love and mutual respect, regardless of the diversities among them.”
In another incident Oct. 24, Israeli police were filmed physically dragging a Coptic monk from the courtyard at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. About two dozen monks were in the courtyard demonstrating against planned repairs by the Israel Antiquities Authorities to a rooftop chapel that is claimed by both the Coptic and Ethiopian Orthodox churches.
The monks refused to allow repair workers to enter the Archangel Michael Chapel in the Monastery of The Sultan after earlier asking that they be allowed to complete the work themselves.
The Coptic monks charged that the Israeli restoration plan served only the interests of the Ethiopian monks, “neglecting our written objections and our request and rights to restore our property.”
The Coptic Orthodox Church was founded in Egypt in the first century by St. Mark. Its almost 15 million members in Egypt represent about 15 percent of the Egyptian population. The Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church is a daughter church.
Conflict between the two churches began in 1974 when the Marxist Ethiopian regime killed the Ethiopian patriarch and the Coptic Church refused to recognize the new patriarch ordered in place by the government. Formal relations between the two churches resumed in 2007.
A statement Oct. 24 from Coptic Metropolitan Anba Antonios of the Holy See of Jerusalem and the Near East denounced the “excessive force” used by the police and said complaints had been submitted to the Israeli prime minister and the minister of justice.
“Israel police officers tried to convince us to allow the repair, but we objected because of the Israeli government intentionally insisted on neglecting our requests,” the statement said. “Then we have been informed that excessive force would be used if we do not agree. Our answer was that we will protect our monastery until the last breath.”
A detained monk was released after the intervention of the Egyptian ambassador.
The repair work continued without the Copts’ approval, the statement said. Church officials said they are exploring legal action to establish their right to restore the monastery.
Israeli Police spokesman Mickey Rosenfeld told Catholic News Service the church incident occurred when about 20 to 25 Coptic monks prevented workers from entering the chapel to perform repair work after a stone had fallen from the roof. Police re-enforcements were called in, he said.
“Tensions became relatively high after a number of representatives of the church would not leave. One monk was detained and released shortly after,” he said.