Reuters / October 4, 2023
JERUSALEM – Israeli police on Wednesday arrested five people suspected of spitting towards Christians or churches in the Old City of Jerusalem and formed a special investigative team to deal with growing complaints of hostile gestures against Christians.
“Unfortunately, we witness the continued disgraceful acts of hatred towards Christians in the Old City of Jerusalem, primarily through spitting by extremists,” said Jerusalem District Commander Doron Turgeman.
No details were provided on the identities of the people who were arrested.
Members of the area’s small Christian community have said they have faced growing harassment and intimidation from Jewish ultranationalists, particularly since Netanyahu’s hard-right government took office late last year.
Wednesday’s arrests came as the city prepared for its annual Jerusalem March, an event that usually draws huge crowds, including thousands of Christian pilgrims.
Israeli media published video footage in the Old City this week showing Orthodox Jews, including small children, apparently spitting on the ground as they passed a group of foreign Christian pilgrims.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu condemned the incident, promising to take “immediate and decisive action”.
“Israel is totally committed to safeguard the sacred right of worship and pilgrimage to the holy sites of all faiths,” he said in a message on the social messaging platform X.
The Old City’s patchwork of narrow alleys surround some of the holiest sites for Jews, Christians and Muslims, and the local communities have long developed ways of living together despite regular spikes in tension, especially around religious and national holidays.
Turgeman said police would use security cameras, patrols and internet monitoring to fight the phenomenon both in real time and in hindsight, as well as to possibly start imposing special “administrative fines”.
Reporting by Ari Rabinovitch and James Mackenzie; editing by Bernadette Baum