Less than a month after a monastery at Latrun was vandalized with "price tag" graffiti, similar graffiti was found Tuesday morning on a door near the Church of the Dormition on Mount Zion, just outside the walls of Jerusalem's Old City.
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The graffiti, which read "Jesus, son of a bitch, price tag," had already been removed by midmorning Tuesday, Israel Police spokesman Mickey Rosenfeld said.
Jerusalem Police Chief Maj. Gen. Yossi Pariente yesterday ordered the formation of a special investigative team to locate the perpetrators. No one has yet been arrested for last month's vandalism.
Jewish extremists are thought to have carried out similar vandalism on churches, mosques and army property in response to what they consider pro-Palestinian government policies. The Latrun vandalism occurred shortly after settlers were evicted from the illegal outpost of Migron.
The Dormition Church, built over a century ago near the site of the Last Supper, is one of the Franciscan order's most important holdings in the Holy Land. Though Israel has only about 155,000 Christian citizens, less than 2 percent of its 7.9 million people, the repeated defacing of their sacred sites has shocked the country and drawn official condemnation.
"Price tag actions contradict the morals and values of Judaism and do great harm to the State of Israel," said President Shimon Peres, speaking at a meeting with one of Israel's chief rabbis at a Sukkot reception yesterday. "It is forbidden to harm the holy sites of [other] religions and faiths."
Church officials have said mere condemnation is not enough. In an interview with Haaretz a few weeks ago, one of the Vatican's top officials in the Holy Land, the Rev. Pierbattista Pizzaballa, sharply condemned what he termed Israelis' derogatory attitude toward Christians.
"When you say 'Christianity' to Israelis they immediately think of the Holocaust and the [Spanish] Inquisition," he said. "People don't know that we are here and have roots here."
He said this attitude seems to be prevalent in Israeli society, noting that priests are often spat on by yeshiva students, and that National Union MK Michael Ben-Ari had torn up a New Testament in the Knesset.
"If you as a Jew want people to respect you, you need to respect others," Pizzaballa said.
Various rabbis condemned the vandalism.
"We only just finished with Yom Kippur ... and now we have another sin for which we must atone - contempt for another religion," said Rabbi Mauricio Balter, president of the Masorti (Conservative ) Movement's Rabbinical Assembly.
Rabbi Gilad Kariv of the Reform Movement warned that "This price tag epidemic threatens to become a routine part of Israeli public life, causing moral, social and international damage. Law enforcement, which has failed to deal with the phenomenon, must make this a much higher priority than it has until now."
The Reform Movement, in a statement, also urged the thousands of people who will be visiting Jerusalem's Old City during the intermediate days of this week's Sukkot holiday to "visit the desecrated site and express their disgust with this act."
The Custodia Terrae Sanctae, the Franciscans' representative in the Holy Land, said that Israel must do more to eliminate the price tag phenomenon.
"The attempts to damage monasteries and the spray-painting of inflammatory graffiti against Christianity, which have occurred repeatedly recently, are an insult to the hundreds of millions of Christian faithful throughout the world, and the State of Israel cannot allow such grave acts to occur," the statement said.