US condemns ‘despicable’ vandalism of Christian cemetery in Jerusalem

US Office of Palestinian Affairs, Biden’s antisemitism envoy condemn damage to roughly 30 graves at Protestant burial site by pair of suspects who remain at large

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US bureau chief

Hosam Naoum, a Palestinian Anglican bishop, pauses where vandals desecrated more than 30 graves at a historic Protestant Cemetery on Jerusalem's Mount Zion in Jerusalem, January 4, 2023. (AP Photo/ Mahmoud Illean)
Hosam Naoum, a Palestinian Anglican bishop, pauses where vandals desecrated more than 30 graves at a historic Protestant Cemetery on Jerusalem's Mount Zion in Jerusalem, January 4, 2023. (AP Photo/ Mahmoud Illean)

The United States on Thursday condemned the recent vandalism of a Christian cemetery in Jerusalem that resulted in damage to roughly 30 graves.

“Concerned to see a Mt. Zion Holy Site targeted again. We spoke with the Churches, and welcome Israeli, PA, and the intl. community calls for accountability. Religious site vandalism by anyone is unacceptable. Jerusalem must be a city for all of its people,” the US Office of Palestinian Affairs wrote on its Twitter account.

The Biden administration’s antisemitism envoy Deborah Lipstadt tweeted: “I condemn this despicable act. Desecration of any and all holy sites is unacceptable, and the sanctity of burial must be respected. Families have the right to peacefully lay to rest loved ones.”

“We must work together to call out all forms of hate whenever and wherever they occur,” she added.

Police opened an investigation into the Sunday incident at the Protestant Mount Zion Cemetery, though the suspects remain at large.

Widely shared security camera footage on Sunday showed two young men — both wearing a Jewish skullcap and tzitzit, the knotted ritual fringes worn by observant Jews — breaking into the cemetery, knocking over stone crosses and smashing and stomping on tombstones, leaving a trail of debris and broken headstones.

Samuel Gobat, then-Bishop of Jerusalem, opened the cemetery in 1848. It is now owned by the Church Missionary Trust Association Ltd, an Anglican organization.

Gobat’s grave was among those damaged along with those belonging to three British mandate police officers.

The Foreign Ministry denounced the attack as an “immoral act” and “an affront to religion.” Jerusalem’s Anglican Archbishop Hosam Naoum called it a “clear hate crime.” The British consulate said it was just the latest in a string of assaults on the Christian community in the Holy City of Jerusalem.

Mount Zion, associated in Christian tradition with the site of the Last Supper that Jesus shared with his disciples before his crucifixion, is also sacred to Jews and Muslims and has been at the center of competing religious claims throughout the decades-long conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.

Damaged tombstones at the Protestant Mount Zion Cemetery, in Jerusalem, January 3, 2022. (Israel Police)

There have been numerous incidents in recent years of vandalism at Christian sites across the country, which church officials blame on Jewish extremists.

In December 2021, Christian leaders in the Holy Land warned that their communities are under threat of being driven from the region by extremist Israeli radical groups, and called for dialogue on preserving their presence.

Patriarchs and heads of churches in Jerusalem issued a joint statement similarly warning of the danger posed by radical groups they said are aiming at “diminishing the Christian presence.”

Extremist Jewish activists have for years carried out vandalism against Christian sites in Jerusalem and other areas of Israel, including hate graffiti and arson. The extremists also target Palestinians.

AP contributed to this report

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