JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Vandals set fire to the doors of a Christian monastery in the Israeli-occupied West Bank on Tuesday and daubed pro-settler graffiti on its walls in a possible retaliation for the eviction of families from an unauthorized outpost.
The name of the unauthorized Migron outpost, cleared of Israeli settlers following a court order on Sunday, was scrawled on the well-known 19th century Latrun Monastery, alongside the words “Jesus is a monkey” in Hebrew, police said.
Israeli security officials had said they were worried Sunday’s eviction of 50 families from Migron, in another part of the West Bank near Ramallah, might provoke more attacks by a vigilante settler group known as “Price Tag”.
The “Price Tag” name refers to retribution some Israeli settlers say they will exact for any attempt by their government to curb settlement in the West Bank, an area Palestinians want as part of a future state.
The group has targeted mosques and, less commonly, Christian churches, regarding any non-Jewish religious sites as an intrusion on the land.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu condemned Tuesday’s attack. “This is a heinous act and those responsible for it must be punished severely. Freedom of religion and worship are basic fundamentals in Israel,” a statement from his office said.
Palestinian Christian academic Bernard Sabella told Reuters that the attack, and others like it, had been carried out by “groups of extremist Jews who do not want Muslims or Christians to remain in this country”.
Saeb Erekat, a senior Palestinian official, issued a statement accusing the Israeli government of not doing enough to prosecute the attackers.
An Israeli rabbi from a liberal wing of Judaism visited the monastery and called the attack an “ugly event”.
“As a rabbi and as an Israeli citizen I am ashamed today and I am deeply troubled by the fact that this is not the first time that such an event takes place in Israel, ” Rabbi Gilad Kariv, the head of the Israel Movement for Reform and Progressive Judaism, told Reuters Television.
“We need to make sure that the other faiths, other communities feel secure here,” Kariv added.
The Latrun monastery is near Jerusalem on land Israel captured in the 1967 war, and then annexed, in a step that has never been recognized internationally. It is surrounded by a valley, close to the West Bank’s “Green Line” boundary with Israel, where fighting took place in two Arab-Israeli wars.
Police said they had launched an investigation into the attack.
Vandals attacked Jerusalem’s 11th Century Monastery of the Cross and a Baptist church in the city in February. Israeli human rights groups have accused the authorities of being slow to punish the perpetrators.
Writing by Allyn Fisher-Ilan, additional reporting by Jihan Abdalla, editing by Tim Pearce