Two indicted for Church of Multiplication arson
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Two indicted for Church of Multiplication arson

Yinon Reuveni and Yehuda Asraf stand accused of flagrant attack against Christian site of worship near Sea of Galilee

Mitch Ginsburg is the former Times of Israel military correspondent.

Five suspects were arrested and two were indicted for the June 19 arson attack on a church commemorating Jesus’ miracle of multiplication along the shores of the Sea of Galilee, the Shin Bet said Wednesday.

The two indicted men, both allegedly subscribing to an ideology that views Christian and any sort of non-Jewish worship in Israel as an impediment to the building of the Third Temple and the arrival of the Messiah, are Yinon Reuveni, 20, and Yehuda Asraf, 19.

Reuveni, a resident of the southern town of Ofakim in recent months, has been banished from the West Bank on several occasions and is a suspect in a series of hate crimes, including the February 2015 arson attack at Jerusalem’s Dormition Abbey.

Asraf, the Shin Bet said in a statement, has been living on an illegal outpost and is active in extremist Jewish circles.

A priest inspects the damage caused to the Church of the Multiplication at Tabgha, on the Sea of Galilee, in northern Israel, which was set on fire in what police suspect was an arson attack, on June 18, 2015. (Basel Awidat/Flash90)
A priest inspects the damage caused to the Church of the Multiplication at Tabgha, on the Sea of Galilee, in northern Israel, which was set on fire in what police suspect was an arson attack, on June 18, 2015. (Basel Awidat/Flash90)

The Church of the Multiplication of the Loaves and the Fishes, a new house of worship built on the site where Jesus is believed to have performed the miracle of feeding 5,000 men, women, and children with only five loaves of bread and two fish, was set on fire at 3:30 a.m. on June 18, causing severe damage to the church and lightly wounding two people on the premises.

Mosaics preserved from the Byzantine period at the Church of the Multiplication of the Loaves and the Fishes at Tabgha, on the Sea of Galilee. (Rishwanth Jayapaul/FLASH90)
Mosaics preserved from the Byzantine period at the Church of the Multiplication of the Loaves and the Fishes at Tabgha, on the Sea of Galilee. (Rishwanth Jayapaul/FLASH90)

The perpetrators of the crime scrawled graffiti on the church walls. It read, “False idols will be smashed” – a quote from the daily Aleinu prayer and an indication of the anti-Chrisitan animus that motivated the crime.

The Shin Bet also arrested but did not indict Mordechai Meyer, who is suspected of other hate crimes against Palestinian and Christian sites; Moshe Orbach, a resident of Bnei Brak who has been living in the hilltop settlements of the West Bank; and a youth, a resident of Ramle, who, like most of the others, has been administratively barred from the West Bank in recent months. The three will face further unspecified “administrative measures.”

The Shin Bet described the group as part of an “ideological infrastructure” that is small in size and adheres to a belief system that seeks to affect regime change in Israel and “hasten redemption.”

The group’s first hate crime was allegedly perpetrated in April 2014, when the Dir Rafaat monastery, near Beit Shemesh west of Jerusalem, was vandalized. One month later, they allegedly tried to interfere with Pope Francis’s visit to Israel but were prevented from doing so.

Later in the year, in November and December, the group allegedly set fire to Palestinian houses but in the spring of 2015 focused again on Christian sites.

The blogpost and photo of Meir Ettinger, whom the Shin Bet labelled as the head of the loosely knit group (courtesy Shin Bet)
The blogpost and photo of Meir Ettinger, whom the Shin Bet labelled as the head of the loosely knit group (courtesy Shin Bet)

Meir Ettinger, fingered by the Shin Bet as the head of the loosely knit group and yet not arrested, wrote a May 20 blog post that the Shin Bet distributed in full. On the Hakol Hayehudi website he wrote, “Only he who renounces idolatry and combats Christianity and seeks to remove the churches from the Holy Land – he can be called a Jew.”

Ettinger, a native of Jerusalem who has been banned from both the capital and the West Bank and today lives in Safed, also wrote that “by all (acceptable) opinions” Christianity is “defined as idol worship.”

The Shin Bet distributed the unnamed organization’s founding document. Headlined with the cry of the Maccabis, “Whoever is for God, follow me!” the document calls for the construction of the temple, the “erasure” of Amalek nation – the eternal enemies of the Jews – and the appointment of a king.

“The requisite question is how are these commandments fulfilled; how is the building of the Temple truly brought about?” the founding members wrote.

Since the State of Israel is currently an impediment to the construction of the Temple, the founding document states, “one must think how this government that hinders us from building the Temple, that hinders us from the true and full redemption, may be brought down.”

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