A year later, Jesus ‘Loaves’ church attacked by Jewish arsonists still not repaired
First gov’t compensation payment only just arrived; officials say it’s not nearly enough to fix damage; fundraising under way in Germany
Dov Lieber is The Times of Israel's Arab affairs correspondent.
Over a year since Jewish extremists set fire to the Church of the Multiplication of the Loaves and Fishes, where Christians believe Jesus performed the miracle of loaves and fishes, the complex has still not been repaired.
Those responsible for the important Catholic pilgrimage site in Tabgha, located on the northwestern shore of the Sea of Galilee, have been waiting for money promised to them by the Israeli government to rebuild.
This week, the first installment finally arrived, Dr. Georg Röwekamp, a spokesperson for the German Association of the Holy Land (DHVL) confirmed to The Times of Israel. But the money from the government won’t be enough to cover the damages, officials said.
Fr. Nicodmus, the spokesperson for the Benedictine fathers, said the church is only getting one-third of what is needed to rebuild the sacred site, which was torched on June 18, 2015.
The Benedictine fathers’ spokesperson emphasized the site is very important to Christians, especially in Germany. He said German Christians have begun a series of online crowdfunding campaigns to pay whatever Israel won’t.
The Finance Ministry said in a statement to the Hebrew daily Ynet that the delay in transferring the money was due to the church’s difficulty in representing itself as a legal entity.
Tax authorities had initially refused the church’s request for compensation, saying it was not clear that the attack was carried out on “nationalistic” grounds.
The Justice Ministry, however, eventually determined that, based on the charges against the suspects, the attack was related to the “Israeli-Arab conflict” and it instructed that the church be compensated.
Church officials told AFP the sum requested was approximately 7 million shekels ($1.7 million).
However, Wadia Abu Nasser, a spokesperson for the Catholic Church in Israel, told Ynet that the Israeli government appraised the damage at 1.7 million shekels ($438,000).
The arson attack, at the site where many Christians believe Jesus fed 5,000 in the miracle of the five loaves and two fish, completely destroyed a building in the compound. The church itself was not damaged.
Hebrew graffiti was found on another building within the complex, reading: “Idols will be cast out or destroyed.”
Two Jewish extremists, Yinon Reuveni and Yehuda Asraf, were charged last year in connection with the arson and graffiti.
A third, Moshe Orbach, was charged with writing and distributing a document detailing the “necessity” of attacking non-Jewish property and people as well as laying out practical advice to do so.
The attack on the church sparked widespread condemnation and concern from Christians globally, with the site visited by some 5,000 people daily, while also drawing renewed attention to religiously linked hate crimes in Israel.
Agencies contributed to this report