ANAT HOFFMAN, Executive Director of the Israel Religious Action Centre, has written to Beit Emanuel asking our members to join with her in sending letters of solidarity to the leaders of an historic Christian church in the Galilee, attacked last week by Jewish extremists. The attack has drawn condemnation from both Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu and the Chief Rabbi of Israel.
Anat’s letter, addressed to our vice-chair Russell Cohen, reads:
The Church of the Multiplication of Loaves and Fishes was first built on the shores of the Sea of Galilee in 480 AD. It was set ablaze in the middle of the night early last Thursday morning. The perpetrators scrawled in Hebrew on the walls “foreign idols will be destroyed,” a quote from a Jewish daily prayer. This was not the first hate crime directed at the church. Last year a group of mostly Jewish youth attacked its outdoor prayer area, pelted stones at worshippers, destroyed a cross and threw benches into a fire. No one was indicted or held accountable.
This time, the damage to the church and its worshippers was even more severe. Of the 12 people in the church when the fire broke out, a 79 year old church volunteer and a 19 year old tourist were hospitalized for smoke inhalation. Five firefighter teams worked for over three hours to put out the blaze. By then, the fire had seriously damaged the church structure, roof, reception room, storeroom, souvenir shop, and the nuns’ office. Hundreds of holy books, including rare books locked away in the storeroom, were burnt.
We called to offer help. No one answered the phone. The tiny church was overwhelmed by the outpouring of support and offers for help that came from Israelis and from all over the world. Even the Chief Rabbi of Israel issued a statement denouncing the act.
Clearly Israeli public opinion is against this act of arson. Prime Minister Netanyahu has ordered that the secret service investigate the crime. This means that now there is a real chance of finding the perpetrators and bringing them to justice. This latest hate crime should not be allowed to join the list of over 40 places of worship that have been vandalized, burnt and desecrated since December 2009, and for which not even one perpetrator has been found. I urge the State of Israel to use its immense abilities to find the arsonists this time, bring them to justice and prove to ourselves and the world that such acts of extremism are intolerable to our state.
This is also an opportunity to support the good people of the Church of Loaves and Fishes. Sign our letter and we will bring your words of support, sympathy and encouragement to the priests and nuns who are now rebuilding and restoring their church when we visit them later this week.