US tourist arrested for vandalizing statue in Jerusalem Old City church

Sculpture of Scourged Savior toppled in Church of Flagellation on Via Dolorosa Street; security guard wrestles man to floor; police checking if he has mental health issues

A US tourist, left, is led away by police on suspicion that he vandalized a statue in the Church of the Flagellation in the Old City of Jerusalem, February 2, 2023. (Israel Police)
A US tourist, left, is led away by police on suspicion that he vandalized a statue in the Church of the Flagellation in the Old City of Jerusalem, February 2, 2023. (Israel Police)

An American tourist was arrested Thursday on suspicion of vandalizing a church statue in the Old City of Jerusalem, the Israel Police said.

Police said they were notified of vandalism at the Church of the Flagellation on Via Dolorosa Street.

Social media reports said the damaged statue was of the Scourged Savior.

A video shared on social media showed a security guard grappling with the suspect and then pinning him to the floor inside the church until police arrived.

The damaged statue was seen lying on its side.

The suspect, in his 40s, was taken away for questioning.

Police said they are checking if the suspect has mental health issues.

“We take a very serious view of damage to religious institutions and sites,” the police statement said. “The police will continue to act against acts of violence and vandalism in the holy places of all religions.”

The Custody of the Holy Land, which represents the Vatican, identified the suspect as “an American religious Jew” and said the incident was a “hate crime” that “joins a series of attacks all directed against the Christian public in Israel that occurred in the last month.”

A toppled statue in the Church of the Flagellation, in the Oldy City of Jerusalem, February 2, 2023. (Custody of the Holy Land)

In a statement, the custodian said it was the fifth incident of violence against the church in recent weeks, coming after a group of religious Jews attacked tourists in the Christian Quarter last week. Other incidents included vandalism at a Christian cemetery, the spraying of “Death to Christians” on a monastery wall, and vandalism at the Maronite Center in the northern town of Ma’alot, it said.

“We are following with concern this chain of serious events directed at the Christian community in Israel,” the custodian’s statement said. “It is no coincidence that the violent discourse in the Israeli public is also translated into such serious acts. We expect and demand that the Israeli government and law enforcement agencies act decisively to eradicate these serious incidents.”

Last month two Jewish Israeli teens were arrested on suspicion of vandalism at a Christian cemetery in Jerusalem that resulted in damage to roughly 30 graves at the Mount Zion site.

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