Tuesday, January 18th | 16 Shevat 5782

March 15, 2019 9:08 am

Why Is the Catholic Church Vocal on a Jewish Attack, but Not an Arab One?

avatar by Dexter Van Zile


A view of Jerusalem. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

As a Roman Catholic and a supporter of the Jewish state, I’m disappointed by the failure of law enforcement officials in Israel to successfully prosecute and punish the criminals who vandalized Dormition Abbey in Jerusalem in 2016.

The Associated Press recently reported that two Israeli Jews suspected of vandalizing the abbey were acquitted after the court ruled that a confession from one of the suspects was obtained through “emotional torture,” and therefore inadmissible. The ruling prompted prosecutors to drop the case for lack of evidence.

Wadie Abunassar, an Israeli Arab Christian who was quoted under the vague title “advisor to church leaders in the Holy Land,” declared that the outcome was “unacceptable” and that the Israeli government must bring the people responsible for the vandalism “to justice.”

I understand Abunassar’s anger. Vandals wrote “Death to Christians” and “Jesus is a Monkey” on the walls of the abbey dedicated to Mary. That’s pretty blasphemous and insulting stuff. But I’m not going to riot, stab, or intimidate anyone. I’m not going to set anything on fire. Instead, I will take some solace that one of the suspects remains in jail after having been convicted of a 2015 arson attack at the Church of the Multiplication.

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This is how it goes. Sometimes evidence against a suspect is thrown out of court because it is deemed inadmissible, and seemingly guilty people walk free. It also happens in the United States. It has something to do with the rights of the accused in a democracy.

Given the fact that Israeli leaders of all stripes go out of their way to condemn such crimes when they happen, I’m pretty confident in my hope that this acquittal will not be interpreted as license for other Israeli Jews to commit such acts against Christians or their sites of worship — even if these sites are sometimes used as headquarters or staging grounds for propaganda attacks against the legitimacy of the Jewish state by Palestinian extremists.

For example, St. Anne’s Church in the Muslim Quarter of the Old City houses the World Council of Churches (WCC)’s Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI) and another WCC-supported institution, the Jerusalem Inter-Church Centre (JIC) — two institutions whose personnel regularly defame Israel to audiences in the West under the guise of Christian peacemaking.

I still have a problem, however. Why is it that acts of vandalism perpetrated by Israeli Jews against Christian holy sites in Jerusalem get so much attention from folks like Abunassar and the Associated Press, but Christian leaders have refused to comment publicly about an attack perpetrated by Arabs against another holy site, the Church of Dominus Flevit?

I know the attack — or more accurately, an invasion or occupation — took place, but no one from the Catholic church is talking about it publicly. I first heard about the attack in 2016 from a well-placed source who insisted on remaining anonymous. I spent the next several months trying to get Catholic officials in the Holy Land to provide details of the attack and their response. No luck.

I sent emails to everyone I could think of, including US representatives of the Franciscan order that manages church property in the Holy Land. I even sent a fax to the Papal Nuncio in Israel. No one ever got back to me. And when I called the church itself, no one would talk.

The story as it was first given to me was that sometime in late 2015 or early 2016, a group of Arabs essentially invaded or occupied the compound of Dominus Flevit located on the Mount of Olives. The Custodian of the Holy Land was forced to hire security guards from, I was told, an Arab-owned security company to oust the invaders.

I could find nothing in the English press about the attack, and one of my colleagues at CAMERA found nothing in the Hebrew-language press either. Tradition has it that this church was built on the site where Jesus wept over the destruction of Jerusalem, as recorded in the Gospel of Luke. It’s a hugely important site, so this is a big story — but it never got out.

It took a while, but I was finally able to get confirmation from four additional sources that the compound was in fact invaded or “occupied” by local Arabs. One of the sources conveyed to me that the Custodian of the Catholic church’s property in the Holy Land was, like my first source told me, forced to hire security to protect the property and to hire a lawyer to evict the invaders. It was also conveyed to me that none of the church officials involved in the event wanted to talk about it.

In mid-November 2016, I sent an e-mail to Rev. David M. Neuhaus, asking for information about the attack; when I didn’t get an answer, I called him on his cell phone number. At the time, Fr. Neuhaus was serving as vicar for the Hebrew-speaking Catholics in the Holy Land. When I spoke to him on his cell phone, Fr. Neuhaus suggested I contact the Franciscans who serve as the Custodians of Church property in the Holy Land.

Fair enough. On November 17, 2016, I reached out to the Franciscans in both the Holy Land and in the United States, but got no substantive response. I did however, get an e-mail from Brea Cannon in the communications department at Franciscan Foundation for the Holy Land in the US. She thanked me for reaching out and stated that she had “directed [my] email to the Custody of the Holy Land.”

In the e-mail, I asked a number of questions about the date of the attack, the identity of the attackers, and, among other things, why the attack had not been publicized. “As a Roman Catholic,” I wrote, “I am very interested in knowing about these types of outrages, as I am bothered by the attacks on Latroun and the arson attack on the Church of the Multiplication.”

I faxed a similar letter to the Most Reverend Guiseppe Lazzarotto, Apostolic Nuncio to Israel for the Vatican. Maybe the fax didn’t go through, but I think it did, because I got a transaction report from CAMERA’s fax machine that declared two pages were sent.

I never got a response from any of the church officials I queried. The explanation I got from one source outside the Catholic church was that church officials wanted to keep the story quiet out of fear of extremist Muslim groups in the Holy Land. Isn’t it better to put these folks on notice rather than stay fearfully quiet about their misdeeds?

Don’t get me wrong. The desecration of Dormition Abbey is an outrage. But why is it that we haven’t heard a word about an attempted invasion or occupation of Dominus Flevit, one of Christianity’s holiest sites in Jerusalem?

What’s going on here?

Dexter Van Zile is the Christian media analyst for the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA). His opinions are his own.

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