BLOG 272 September 28, 2015
Across the world, shock waves were felt when the Church of the Multiplication located in Tabaha on the Sea of Galilee was gutted by an arson attack that destroyed much of the compound and destroyed the roof of the church. The entrance area, a souvenir shop, an office, and a meeting room were badly impaired. Severe damage completely shut the Church down. The Church’s Byzantine mosaic floor goes back to the 5th century. A verse from the a Hebrew prayer was sprayed painted on a wall in red, “idol worship.”
It has been estimated that 5,000 tourist visit this site daily. At this time, no one can determine when the site will be re-opened. The earliest Christians came here to remember the miracle of Jesus feeding the 5,000 with five loaves and two fishes. It has been and remains one of the most popular destinations for Christian pilgrims and is particularly important to Arab Christians.
I have been there many times and looked out over the Sea of Galilee. While it is a site from Christian tradition, scholars know Jesus taught by the seaside and this site has a high probability of being authentic. In the spring time, the area is striking and always inspiring.
Who would destroy such a holy site?
The police initially detained 16 Jewish youth. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared the destruction to be an “attack on us all.” President Reuven Rivlin noted that Israel was obligated to protect and preserve the holy sites of all faiths. In fact, protection is guaranteed by the constitution of Israel.
This is not the first time vandalism has occurred. On September 4, 2012 the doors of the Latrun Monastery near Jerusalem were set on fire. Scrawled next to the door was “Jesus is a monkey.” Jerusalem’s Dormition Abbey on Mount Zion in May, 2013 had written on it, “Christians are monkeys” and “Christians are slaves.” On February 7, 2012, the 11th century Monastery of the Cross in Jerusalem was defaced with graffiti that said, “Death to Christians.”
Where do these attacks come from? Wadie Abu Nasser, an adviser for the Catholic Church in the Holy Land, noted that there assaults are no coincidence. Jewish youths last year attacked the church’s outdoor prayer area and threw rocks at worshipers. He believes a culture of religious and national intolerance is building in Israel. Moreover, Nasser says Israel’s legal system is failing. Ultranationalist Jews have also carried out attacks on Palestinians in the West Bank as well. In the West Bank, olive trees have been chopped down and cars burned. Tires have been cut. Other official voices tell a similar story. These extremists want to start a religious war. They believe the land belongs only to the Jews and are out to destroy all non-Jewish institutions and symbols. In defiance of the government’s official position, these radicals have been establishing outposts in the West Bank.
In the ultra-nationalist sectors, some rabbis teach that Christianity is origin of evil in the world. Of course, none of this reflects the Israeli government or the Hebrew faith. The time has come for the government and the courts to pull in the reigns and stop the extremists before more damage is done.