Armenian priest - Tomer Appelbaum - November 2011
An Armenian priest and a Haredi man in Jerusalem’s Old City. Photo by Tomer Appelbaum
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When Narek Garabidian, a Canadian of Armenian extraction, came to Israel to study at the Armenian Orthodox theological seminary in Jerusalem, he never thought he would have to endure harsh insults from passersby.

For the past 18 months, Garabidian said last week, he has been spit at and cursed by ultra-Orthodox passersby in the Old City.

About a month ago he was spit at again, but this time, it hit his clothes. Garabidian, a former football player, said: "I pushed the two young ultra-Orthodox men up against the wall and asked, 'Why are you doing this?' They were really scared and said, 'Forgive us, we're sorry.' So I let them go."

When asked about the matter, Armenian clergymen said they had all been spit at, from the archbishop to the youngest of the divinity students. The most recent incident was on Thursday night, when a group of ultra-Orthodox Jews got together to spit at the gates of the Armenian church. However, the police found out about the incident and thwarted it by stationing officers in front of the church.

Police say that in every case where a complaint is filed, the offender has been caught thanks to security cameras installed in the Old City.

But in a verdict almost two weeks ago, Jerusalem Magistrate's Court Judge Dov Pollock said: "The enforcement authorities are unable to root out the phenomenon and do not catch the spitters."

Pollock dismissed charges against Johannes Maratersian, an Armenian divinity student, who was spit at by an ultra-Orthodox man in May 2008 and responded by punching the man. Pollock ruled that prosecuting a man who has been spit on for years as he walks down the street in his clerical robes would contravene the principles of justice.

The Jerusalem district police responded: "All complaints of mutual assault are treated with the utmost severity. In the past, more than one case ended with charges being filed and the deportation of clergy involved in assault. As opposed to the situation about three years ago, the frequency of spitting has declined dramatically."