Israeli police today arrested five people suspected of spitting towards Christians or churches in the Old City of Jerusalem and formed a special investigative team to deal with growing complaints of hostile gestures against Christians, Reuters reports.
“Unfortunately, we witness the continued disgraceful acts of hatred towards Christians in the Old City of Jerusalem, primarily through spitting by extremists,” said Jerusalem District Commander Doron Turgeman.
No details were provided on the identities of the people who were arrested.
Members of the area’s Christian community have said they have faced growing harassment and intimidation from Jewish ultranationalists and settlers, particularly since Benjamin Netanyahu’s hard-right government took office late last year.
The arrests came as the city prepared for its annual Jerusalem March, an event that usually draws huge crowds.
Israeli media published video footage in the Old City this week showing Orthodox Jews, including small children, apparently spitting on the ground as they passed a group of foreign Christian pilgrims.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu condemned the incident, promising to take “immediate and decisive action”.
“Israel is totally committed to safeguard the sacred right of worship and pilgrimage to the holy sites of all faiths,” he said in a message on the social messaging platform X.
Israeli settlers have defended their attacks on Christians by saying that it’s part of “an ancient Jewish custom.” One Israeli extremist, Elisha Yered, who is suspected of involvement in the killing of Palestinian teen Qusai Jamal Maatan, defended the spitting in a post on social media platform X.
“It’s a good time to mention that spitting near priests or churches is an ancient Jewish custom, and there’s even a special blessing in Jewish law that should be recited when you see a church,” said Yered. “Perhaps under the influence of Western culture we have somewhat forgotten what Christianity is, but I think that the millions of Jews who went through crusades in exile, Inquisition tortures, blood plots and mass pogroms will never forget.”
Church leaders have warned that anti-Christian violence carried out by Israeli settlers has soared this year. They have also complained that the police refuse to treat the situation seriously enough and to identify the growing list of violent incidents as a disturbing hate-crime trend.