Jerusalem Man Arrested for Arson at One of Christianity's Holiest Sites

Fire at Church of All Nations in Jerusalem caused minor damage. Police say Jewish suspect's motive is criminal, but the Catholic church is asking for a thorough investigation

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A priest checks a damaged pew after a man poured out flammable liquid inside the Church of All Nations in the Garden of Gethsemane, east Jerusalem, December 4, 2020.
A priest checks a damaged pew after a man poured out flammable liquid inside the Church of All Nations in the Garden of Gethsemane, east Jerusalem, December 4, 2020.Credit: AHMAD GHARABLI - AFP

A Jerusalem man was arrested on Friday for spilling flammable liquid and setting it alight at the Church of All Nations in Jerusalem, causing minor damage. 

According to the police report, the act caused minor damage to one pew and the mosaic floor. A guard at the scene detained the suspect until police arrived, who arrested him. Police said that a preliminary investigation shows that the suspect had criminal motives. 

The perpetrator, a 49-year-old Jewish resident of Jerusalem, was detained by a security guard until police arrived. According to a later statement, investigators seem to believe the attack had criminal rather than political motives.

The Church of All Nations sits on the Mount of Olives, near the Garden of Gethsemane. Also known as the Basilica of the Agony, it is a Roman Catholic church and is overseen by the Custody of the Holy Land, a Franciscan order, on behalf of the Vatican. It is one of Christianity's holiest sites; according to Christian tradition, Jesus prayed at the site before he was arrested by the Romans prior to his crucifixion.

The Custodia Terrae Sanctae, the local representative of the Catholic Church, released a statement in which they "fiercely condemned this terrible, shameful and deliberate act, which was carried out in such a sacred and precious place for hundreds of millions of Christians in the Holy Land and in the world."

The statement added, "To our regret, churches and Christian sites throughout the Holy Land bore witness to various hate crimes over past years. The Custodia calls on the police to carry out a serious and thorough investigation of the event and to avoid hasty conclusions regarding motives and attempting to label the matter as a 'criminal act' alone."   

"We received a report that a religious Jewish person was arrested after lighting a fire in the church," Wadie Abu Nassar, spokesperson for the Assembly of Catholic Ordinaries of the Holy Land, said. "We are thankful to God that the damage was limited and that no one was injured."

Abu Nassar called for a serious investigation to be carried out, asking that police emphasize clarifying the attacker's motive. "If the motive is racist... a lot of conclusions should be drawn," Abu Nassar said, adding that "it seems people here are not yet promoting coexistence based on mutual respect for all religions."

Alos condemning the incident, Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh said that "while the world prepares to mark Christmas, Palestinian youths foiled an attempted terrorist attack by a settler at the Church of All Nations.

"This is not an isolated incident, but rather a result of a racist discourse and incitement against the Palestinians in Jerusalem and Israel bears the full responsibility for this abominable incident," Shtayyeh said.    

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