US tourist who smashed ancient statues may have ‘Jerusalem syndrome’ — lawyer

At suspect’s remand hearing, attorney says police and the man have agreed to a psychiatric examination after he caused serious damage to Roman-era sculptures at Israel Museum

Damage seen to statues inside the Israel Museum in Jerusalem on October 5, 2023. (Israel Museum)
Damage seen to statues inside the Israel Museum in Jerusalem on October 5, 2023. (Israel Museum)

An attorney for an American tourist accused of smashing and causing severe damage to two ancient Roman-era sculptures at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem is exhibiting signs of “Jerusalem syndrome,” the man’s lawyer said Friday.

At the suspect’s remand hearing, the attorney said police and the suspect had agreed to a psychiatric examination. His remand was extended by four days. His identity has not been released.

Authorities have said the suspect, in his 40s, indicated to them that he destroyed the statues while visiting the museum Thursday because he believed they were “against the Torah” and represented idol worship.

Jerusalem syndrome is the name given to religiously-themed delusions or psychosis triggered by a visit to Jerusalem. The condition can affect visitors who have shown no signs of mental illness previously, and usually resolves upon departure from Israel.

Each year, several dozen tourists are reported to experience Jerusalem-themed mental problems.

Photos released by authorities showed two sculptures that had been knocked off of pedestals and broken into pieces in the museum’s archaeology wing. The pieces were the head of Athena from the 2nd century CE discovered in 1978 in Tel Naharon near Beit She’an, and a statue of a griffin holding a wheel of fate representing the Roman god Nemesis dated to 210-211 CE and discovered in 1957 in the northern Negev.

The statues are now being examined by conservation professionals at the museum to assess the damage and potential for restoration.

Israel Antiquities Authority Director-General Eli Escusido called the act “the horrifying destruction of cultural assets” and said the IAA would seek to prevent recurrences.

Calling the incident “worrying” and “grave,” the museum said it would nevertheless not impact its operations or opening hours.

Sukkot is a popular time for tourists to visit Israel, with many coming from North America in particular.

In February, an American tourist was arrested for vandalizing a statue inside the Church of the Flagellation in Jerusalem’s Old City.

Amy Spiro and Sue Surkes contributed to this report.

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