DNA and Cameras: Police Reveal How They Solved Church of Fish and Loaves Arson

This was the first such nationalist vandalism crime to be solved; police managed to pinpoint the suspects even though the accused kept silent during their interrogation.

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The Church of the Multiplication of Loaves and Fishes, following the June, 2015 arson attack.Credit: Gil Eliyahu
Chaim Levinson
Noa Shpigel

The indictment in the burning of a Galilee church marks the first time the police’s West Bank division for nationalist crimes has solved such a case, the police say.

The authorities used DNA evidence and were able to achieve an indictment even though the accused kept silent during their interrogation and stayed in harsh conditions under the custody of the Shin Bet security service.

Torchings of churches and mosques became a serious phenomenon in Israel starting in 2009. In such cases, the division for nationalist crimes of the Judea and Samaria Police District seeks suspects among Jewish extremists.

On Wednesday, two men were indicted for the arson attack on the Church of the Loaves and Fishes on the northern end of Lake Kinneret. Yinon Reuveni, 20, is the main defendant.

Yehuda Asraf, 19, was indicted for assisting him and providing the getaway car. The church stands on the site where Christians believe Jesus handed out the loaves and fishes.

A priest walking past a graffiti reading in Hebrew "idols will be cast out" as he inspects the damage at the Church of the Multiplication of Loaves and Fish at Tabgha, June 18, 2015.Credit: AFP

The two defendants are allegedly members of a radical organization suspected of being responsible for other hate crimes.

The first lead after the arson incident was mixed. A security camera near the church filmed a Subaru in the parking lot, but the people emerging were indistinguishable.

The breakthrough was triggered by other footage. Reuveni was filmed at the Latrun service station pumping gas into a two-liter bottle, which was later found at the burned-out church, the police say. Revueni was also seen entering the adjacent store, they say.

In the church footage, the two figures hesitated on their way back from the church. The police found a glove with sweat that matched Reuveni’s DNA, they say.

According to prosecutors, this should be enough to show that Reuveni was present at the scene and had acquired the means to commit arson.

If convicted, Reuveni is expected to receive a punishment more severe than the one handed down recently to three right-wing activists. In a plea deal, they each received 30 months in prison for torching a Palestinian-owned car.

Reuveni lived in the Givat Habaladim outpost near the Binyamin region settlement of Kokhav Hashahar. The place has become a point of friction with local Palestinians. According to the Shin Bet, Reuveni would leave from there to set mosques on fire.

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