(JTA) – A pair of what appeared to be Jews were captured on camera vandalizing dozens of Christian graves in Jerusalem’s historic Old City on Jan. 1, drawing condemnation from church officials and the United Kingdom.
The video shows the vandals making a beeline for a large masonry cross inside the Protestant Mount Zion Cemetery, which was established in 1848 and is managed by an organization affiliated with the Anglican Church. After toppling the cross, the vandals, who appear to be young men and can be seen wearing kippahs and tzitzit typically worn by haredi Orthodox Jews, moved on to damage other tombstones.
Coming just days after the swearing-in of a new right-wing government whose critics say could embolden Jewish extremists, the vandalism extends a pattern of attacks on Christian sites in Israel. Vandals have targeted other cemeteries as well as churches and monasteries several times over the last decade. The church and the United Kingdom condemned the incident; the Israeli police have said it will investigate.
Church leaders in the country have long maintained that Israeli settlers and other Jewish extremist groups are trying to drive them out of the Old City, which the Israeli far right believes should exclusively be under Jewish control. They say some extremist Jewish groups have spat on Christians as well. Many Christians in the Jerusalem area are Palestinian, although the people buried in the cemetery include British Christians who were influential in pre-state Palestine.
Last year, Israel’s high court ruled in favor of a right-wing Israeli group that had used shell companies to purchase three Old City buildings that had belonged to the Greek Orthodox church. The group, Ateret Cohanim, seeks to turn non-Jewish properties in Jerusalem into Jewish-owned ones; the church had sued them after the sales were made in 2004.