Thousands of Christians Attend Protest Rally at Burned Galilee Church

Religious leaders call on Israel to protect holy sites, take steps to inciters, following suspected arson attack at Church of the Multiplication last week.

Jack Khoury
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Christians take part in a protest near the Church of the Multiplication at Tabgha, near Lake Kinneret, June 21, 2015.Credit: AFP
Jack Khoury

Thousands of Christians held a protest rally in the Galilee on Sunday, near the Christian church that suffered serious damage following a suspected arson attack last week.

The event was held in the compound of the Church of the Multiplication of the Loaves and Fishes, in Tabgha, near Tiberias. Although it had been planned as a quiet prayer rally, the mood quickly became more aggressive.

Hundreds of youths carrying crosses of various sizes and waving Vatican flags blocked the access road to the church and chanted in honor of Jesus and Mary. Inside the church, a mass was led by former Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem Michel Sabbah and Bishop Giacinto-Boulos Marcuzzo.

U.S. Deputy Chief of Mission William Grant attended the mass, telling Haaretz he wanted to express his condemnation and disgust with the alleged attack, which he described as a hate crime like last week’s attack on the church in Charleston, South Carolina, that left nine African Americans dead.

Grant said the State Department and White House had received regular reports about the fire in the Galilee church, but didn’t issue a statement or make any demands of Israel after hearing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the top political and security echelons sharply condemning the incident and promising to bring the perpetrators to justice.

Wadia Abu Nasser, the Catholic Church’s media adviser in Israel, said foreign embassies and diplomats from many countries had condemned the alleged arson and said they were monitoring developments. Several delegations of Muslim and Druze clergy, as well as Jewish visitors, came to express support for the monks at the site.

Christians protest near the Church of the Multiplication at Tabgha. June 21, 2005.Gil Eliahu

Sabbah said that Israel’s churches and Christians were not asking for any special protection, but that Israel, as a country that defined itself as a democracy that upholds freedom of worship, must act to prevent such incidents and take measures against inciters.

Christians protest near the Church of the Multiplication at Tabgha. June 21, 2005.Gil Eliahu

The condemnations were important, Sabbah added, but even more important is that intensive steps be taken to protect holy sites.

Christian Palestinian holds cross in a protest near the Church of the Multiplication at Tabgha. June 21, 2005. AFP

Sheikh Samir Assi, the imam of the Al-Jazzar mosque in Acre, said incidents of this nature only made the Christian community and other communities subject to similar acts of hatred more determined to retain their faith and lands.

The police are investigating the attack, but no arrests have been made as yet.

Christians protest near the Church of the Multiplication at Tabgha. June 21, 2005.Gil Eliahu

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