Thousands of demonstrators gathered at the Church of the Multiplication of the Loaves and Fish in Tabgha in northern Israel on Sunday, June 21, to protest last week’s arson attack on this holy site. Throngs of Israelis, most of them Christians, arrived at the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee on Sunday to show support for the church in an appeal for coexistence and for a more forceful Israeli crackdown on vandals. Route 87 was closed off by police during the event, and some 100, mostly young, demonstrators blocked a road near the church.
Data published on June 19 by the Israeli daily Haaretz indicate that since 2011, 17 places of Muslim and Christian worship have been the target of arson attacks in Israel. To date, not a single indictment has been handed down in any of these cases.
On June 18, Israel’s new right-wing government was confronted with its first serious hate crime — a wing of the Roman Catholic Church of the Multiplication of the Loaves and Fish in Tabgha was set ablaze. One person, an 80 year old monk from the adjacent monastery was seriously injured due to smoke inhalation during the 3 a.m. attack. Another two persons, volunteers at the church, sustained minor injuries. The attackers sprayed malicious Hebrew graffiti on the walls of the church (“False idols will be smashed!”) and fled the scene. This is not the first hate crime to have been committed at this important church north of Tiberias, where according to Christian tradition Jesus fed 5,000 persons after he miraculously multiplied five loaves of bread and two fishes. In April 2014, unidentified vandals damaged a cross and benches in the church courtyard; to date no one has been apprehended in connection with this attack.
MK Yousef Jabareen (Hadash – Joint List) believes that the Israeli authorities are in no rush to stem the trend. He told the Al-Monitor website, “It’s strange that, again and again, the police fail to find those responsible and to bring them to justice. The result seemingly gives a green light for these terrorists to continue their abominations. This failure increases the Arab public’s distrust of the police and its actions.” According to MK Jabareen, the “price tag” phenomenon against Palestinian citizens of Israel is fueled by the hatred and racism that have become an integral part of the political landscape in Israel, even on the part of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.