A Jewish extremist convicted of carrying out a July 2015 arson attack at the Church of the Multiplication of the Loaves and Fishes in northern Israel was sentenced to four years in prison Tuesday.
In addition to the jail time Yinon Reuveni received, the Nazareth Magistrate’s Court ordered the 22-year-old to pay NIS 50,000 ($14,00) in compensation to the church. He was also handed an additional two years’ probation for the attack.
The court ruled that Reuveni’s sentence would be counted from his original arrest in July 2015.
Speaking with The Times of Israel following the ruling, Reuveni’s attorney, Itamar Ben Gvir, said his client intended to appeal.
“Arabs who set a synagogue on fire received two years in prison,” he said, referring to a sentence handed down to arsonists responsible for an April 2014 attack on a synagogue in the French Hill neighborhood of Jerusalem.
Ben Gvir said that in that case, the State Attorney’s Office had recommended between two and a half to four years in prison for the culprits, but in Reuveni’s case, it recommended nine years behind bars.
“In contrast with those who think this is a light sentence, this is an especially unreasonable punishment for a young man without a criminal record, who has recently married and has suffered from continuous harassment by the Israel Prison Service and the Shin Bet during his detention,” Ben Gvir added.
Last July, Reuveni was found guilty of setting fire to the chapel, in Tabgha along the Sea of Galilee, where Christians believe Jesus fed 5,000 people in the miracle of the five loaves and two fish.
He was charged with arson under aggravated circumstances, destruction of property with hostile intent, using a vehicle to carry out a criminal act and conspiracy to commit other crimes.
Two rooms in the church compound were vandalized and badly damaged in the blaze.
Hebrew graffiti was found on another building within the complex, reading, “Idols will be cast out or destroyed.”
The complex reopened to pilgrims last February following eight months of renovation work at a cost of around $1 million, of which the State of Israel contributed almost $400,000.
Around the time of the attack, Reuveni was living in the Baladim outpost adjacent to the Kochav Hashachar settlement. Baladim was home to activists known as “hilltop youth,” young people who move to settlement outposts, and have been known to resist soldiers’ attempts to evacuate them, and to carry out attacks against Palestinians. Israeli security forces viewed the illegal outpost as a hotbed for extremism, and managed to evacuate it last June.