An arson attack caused extensive damage to the interior and exterior of the Church of Loaves and Fishes on the shores of the Sea of Galilee in northern Israel on Thursday, June 18. The church, which Christians believe is where Jesus performed the Miracle of the Multiplication of the Loaves and the Fishes, is situated on the shore of the Sea of Galilee and is a traditional site of Christian pilgrimage in the Holy Land. Father Matthias Karl, a German monk from the church, said a souvenir shop, an office for pilgrims and a meeting room were badly damaged, and bibles and prayer books were destroyed in the fire. “It’s totally destroyed. The fire was very active,” he told journalists.
Firefighting crews successfully extinguished the blaze and two people who were in the building suffered minor smoke inhalation. No significant damage was caused to the church itself, as the fire raged mainly on the roof. A verse from a Jewish prayer denouncing the worship of “false gods” was spray-painted in red on a church wall, suggesting that Jewish extreme-right extremists were responsible. The Hebrew graffiti was found, reading, “The false gods will be eliminated” — a quote from the Aleinu prayer.
In a statement released by the leader of the Joint List, MK Ayman Odeh (Hadash) strongly condemned the arson of the historic Church of the Multiplication at Tabgha, saying: “This deplorable act is not an isolated incident; it is part of a prevalent culture of hate, and an expression of an ongoing pattern of extremism, violence and impunity from the right-wing government of Israel.”
Right-wing Jewish extremists have in the past carried out numerous arson and graffiti attacks against Christian sites, as well as against Arab property in the West Bank and Jerusalem, under the “price tag” slogan. The term “price tag” is used by Jewish racists and extremists to describe vandalism or attacks typically carried out against Palestinians or their property, ostensibly as retribution for Palestinian attacks or Israeli government actions deemed contrary to settler interests.
The Rabbis for Human Rights group said there have been 43 hate crime attacks against churches, mosques, and monasteries in Israel, the West Bank, and East Jerusalem since 2009. In April, vandals smashed gravestones at a Maronite Christian cemetery near Israel’s northern border with Lebanon. Dozens of arrests have been made in such cases, but there have been few indictments and convictions.