American arrested for vandalizing church: Israeli police

Israeli police arrested an American tourist on Thursday after he allegedly toppled and smashed a statue of Jesus in a church in Jerusalem’s Old City.

Photos on social media showed the statue lying horizontally on the floor after apparently being taken down from the church stand. The event took place at the Church of the Flagellation, located on Via Dolorosa, the route Jesus is believed to have taken for his crucifixion.

Police say they made the arrest with the help of a church security guard. Video on social media shows a man sitting on top of the alleged vandalism who is heard saying, “You can’t have idols in Jerusalem, it’s the holy city.”

Police said the man’s mental health is being evaluated. The US embassy declined to comment.

The incident comes at a time when tensions are running high in Jerusalem and the region after a bloody week. An Israeli army attack in the West Bank killed 10 Palestinians, most of them militants but also a 61-year-old woman. Seven people, including a 14-year-old boy, were killed when Palestinians opened fire outside a Jewish synagogue in East Jerusalem.

After the incident, the statue was found lying on the floor.

The unrest has come in the first weeks of Israel’s new, far-right government, some of whose ultra-nationalist, religious members have used inflammatory, anti-Arab rhetoric.

In a statement, Custodia Terri Sankte, the Catholic Church’s Custodian of the Holy Places in the Holy Land, said “this hate crime is among the list of attacks that have been directed at the Christian community in Israel in the past month.”

“It is no coincidence that even violent dialogue in Israeli society translates into these serious acts,” he said, calling on Israeli law enforcement agencies to act to prevent such incidents.

Father Nicodemus Schnabel of Dormition Abbey, just outside the Old City, linked the incident to the role of the government.

“Welcome to the new Christian-hating Israel, encouraged and supported by the current government!” he tweeted.

Police said they consider the damage to religious institutions serious.

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