State Appeals Acquittal of Priest Cleared of Punching Yeshiva Student

Jerusalem Magistrate's Court justifies dismissal of the charges after learning priests and church officials had been spat upon regularly by ultra-Orthodox Jews.

The case of an Armenian Orthodox priest, who allegedly punched an ultra-Orthodox yeshiva student who had spat at him, was heard in Jerusalem District Court on Wednesday after the state appealed an earlier court decision to drop charges against the priest.

Jerusalem Magistrate's Court Judge Dov Pollock justified the dismissal of the charges in October as being in the interest of justice after being told that priests and other senior church officials in Jerusalem had been spat upon regularly, generally by ultra-Orthodox Jews.

However, the state prosecutor's office, which filed the appeal, argues that allowing the priest's action to go unpunished would encourage other citizens to respond in a similar manner. The prosecutors have also said the yeshiva student had spit because he was suffering from a medical condition and the act was not directed at Johannes Martasian, who at the time of the incident, was a student priest. The spitting phenomenon has been of particular concern to members of the Armenian Orthodox church because of the proximity of the Armenian Quarter to the Jewish Quarter of the Old City and the regular contact between the two groups.

The priest has since left the country, but the prosecutors are seeking to reinstate the case on the chance that he will return. The lawyer for the church told the court on Wednesday that he was unable to contact Martasian.

Police have been largely unsuccessful in apprehending those doing the spitting. In quashing the indictment in October, the judge noted that Martasian had been subject to the phenomenon for years and that the authorities had not addressed the problem. Under the circumstances, it would be unfair to charge him for responding, Judge Pollack wrote in his opinion.