Catholic church demands action on ‘price tag’ attacks

Two weeks before papal visit, heads of Israeli churches said to be preparing a global awareness campaign to highlight hate crimes

Illustrative photo of graffiti reading 'Christians are monkeys,' spray-painted on Dormition Abbey in Jerusalem, in May 2012. (photo credit: Courtesy Dormition Abbey)
Illustrative photo of graffiti reading 'Christians are monkeys,' spray-painted on Dormition Abbey in Jerusalem, in May 2012. (photo credit: Courtesy Dormition Abbey)

The Roman Catholic church demanded Israeli action Wednesday after suspected Jewish extremists daubed hate graffiti on Vatican-owned offices in East Jerusalem just two weeks before a papal visit.

Internal Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch said the government planned to use detention without trial against the suspected extremists as it comes under mounting pressure over its failure to secure a single prosecution in an intensifying wave of hate crime.

Hebrew-language graffiti reading “Death to Arabs and Christians and those who hate Israel” was daubed over offices of the Assembly of Bishops at the Notre Dame centre, a Vatican-owned complex opposite the walls of Jerusalem’s Old City, on Monday, the Roman Catholic church said.

“The Notre Dame centre is the property of the Holy See and this provocation comes two weeks before Pope Francis’s visit to the Holy Land and Jerusalem,” the Latin patriarchate said on its website.

“Heads of the Churches in the Holy Land are preparing a series of actions aimed at informing local and international public opinion, and to make the authorities and law officials aware of their responsibilities.”

Police confirmed there had also been fresh hate attacks on Muslim targets in northern Israel on Wednesday, the latest in a spate of such attacks mainly targeting Palestinian or Arab-Israeli property but also targeting churches and mosques.

Police caught a man as he punctured the tires of Arab-owned vehicles in the town of Yokne’am, spokesman Micky Rosenfeld told AFP.

Investigators were seeking to establish if he was also responsible for vandalising a Druze dentist’s practice earlier in the day.

“Death to Arabs” and “Price Tag” were sprayed on his clinic windows, media said.

“Price tag” is a euphemism for nationalistically motivated attacks by Jewish extremists.

The internal security minister said the government was preparing to allow the use of detention without charge against those suspected of such crimes, powers previously used almost exclusively against Palestinians suspected of security-related offences.

“It is the government’s intention to use administrative detention against those carrying out so-called ‘price tag’ attacks,” Aharonovitch told army radio.

Administrative detention allows for suspects to be held without trial for up to six months. Such orders can be renewed indefinitely by court decision.

Although police have made scores of arrests, there have been no successful prosecutions for price tag attacks and the government has come up under mounting pressure to authorize the Shin Bet internal security agency to step in.

Justice Minister Tzipi Livni said on Sunday she would back the idea of defining such crimes as “terrorism” after the US State Department for the first time included mention of price tag attacks in its global report on terror.

Livni and Aharonovitch held an emergency meeting on Wednesday with the attorney general and security chiefs to disccuss the wave of attacks and how to combat them, a statement from Livni’s office said.

It said that the ministers would brief the security cabinet on events in the past six months since the price tag phenonemon was offcially outlawed and consider declaring those responsible as a terror group.

It said it would also mull increased use of restraining orders removing known suspects from their usul surroundings and arresting them if such orders were breached.

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