"Price tag" graffiti was spray-painted in Jerusalem again Sunday night, with vandals this time targeting a downtown church.
The attack on the Narkis Street Baptist Congregation marks the latest in a series of price tag attacks that have targeted Muslim, Christian and leftist institutions in the capital over the last two months. But police believe most of the vandalism is not the work of an organized group; rather, they say, the spray-painted slogans are largely copycat actions carried out by lone individuals.
The original price tag attacks, in contrast, were thought to be the work of a group of settlers seeking to set a "price tag" on house demolitions in the settlements via retaliatory attacks on Palestinians and/or Israeli soldiers.
The attacks during the past two months have included the torching of cars belonging to Arab residents of Jerusalem's Kiryat Moshe neighborhood; spray-painting slogans on a Christian cemetery on Mount Zion; spray-painting slogans on Peace Now's office in the capital, as well as the house of Peace Now activist Hagit Ofran; threats against Peace Now secretary general Yariv Oppenheimer; and an arson attack on an ancient mosque in the city's Geula neighborhood. Over the last week alone, a bilingual school and two churches have been vandalized, including the Baptist church vandalized Sunday.
In both church attacks, the vandals spray-painted slogans denouncing Christianity, Jesus and Mary, such as "Jesus is dead," "Death to Christianity" and "Mary was a prostitute." They also included the by-now customary "price tag" slogan.
The Jerusalem police said they have arrested several suspects in this spate of attacks, including one for the attacks on Peace Now and one for the vandalism of the bilingual school. The latter suspect, arrested last week, said he vandalized the school to avenge the Beitar Jerusalem soccer team's loss to two Arab teams two weeks ago, according to police. Police believe that many of the other attacks are similarly motivated by ordinary hooliganism, rather than ideology.
"It's intolerably easy," one senior Jerusalem police officer said. "Any child can take a spray can and spray it, and people know it will be broadcast. Not every case is really nationalistic."
But to victims, the motive is irrelevant. Jerusalem's Christian community increasingly feels under assault, and that is especially true for Christians living in Jewish neighborhoods. Priests in the Old City, especially Armenian priests who must often transit the Jewish Quarter, say they are spat on almost daily.
"It's almost impossible to pass through Jaffa Gate without this happening," said a senior priest at one Jerusalem church.
The spitting has become so prevalent that some priests have simply stopped going to certain parts of the Old City.
The Baptist church has been attacked twice before: It was torched in 1982 and again in 2007. "We mainly feel sad" about the attacks, said the church's pastor, Charles Kopp. "It hurts us that anyone could even think we deserve such treatment. They don't know us, but they apparently oppose anyone who doesn't identity with them. I wish them well; I have no desire for revenge."
Baptist priests don't normally walk around in priestly garb, but Kopp said he would be afraid to walk through the Old City if he did.
Jacob Avrahami, the mayor's advisor on the Christian community, visited the Baptist church on Monday to condemn the attacks. "They feel besieged; you can see it on them," he said.
Dr. Gadi Gevaryahu, whose Banish the Darkness organization works to combat racism, said his big fear is that "one day, they'll attack a mosque or a church with people inside and there will be a terrible conflagration here."
"Over the last two years, 10 mosques have been torched here, and today it's clear that it's not just aimed at Palestinians or Muslims, but at foreigners in general," he said.
Gevaryahu also offered a practical suggestion: Security cameras, he said, should be installed on every sensitive building in the city.