There has been some consternation this week about comments that the (Israeli-government-paid) Rabbi of Beit El settlement made about the terrible fire at Paris’s Notre Dame cathedral. Rabbi Shlomo Aviner told a questioner that burning churches outside the holy land “isn’t our job for now. There is no mitzvah [religious credit] to seek out churches abroad and burn them down. In our holy land, however, the issue is more complicated.”
The essential background for Rabbi Aviner’s statement is the fact that Jewish extremists’ torchings of churches and mosques in the areas controlled by Israel have a long history that continues until today.
One of the most notable of the church burnings in recent years was that at the “Church of the Multiplication”, located on the shores of the Sea of Galilee at the spot where Jesus of Nazareth was reported to have fed 5,000 people through the “multiplication” of just five loaves and two fishes.
That June 2015 attack left a Catholic monk hospitalized and caused nearly $1.8 million in damage, some of which is shown in the photo at the head of this post.
Among the Israelis suspected of taking part in that arson attack were Meir Kahaneh’s grandson Meir Ettinger and Ben-Zi Gopstein, the head of the radical “anti-miscegenation” group Lahava.
Gopstein, who has referred to Christians as “blood-sucking vampires” is one of the leaders of the political party Otzma Yehudit that was one of Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition partners in the recent election.
Palestine was, of course, the cradle of Christianity. (Above: the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem.) It is home not just to some of the most ancient and revered sites of Jesus’s ministry but also to numerous Palestinian-Christian congregations whose members can claim with some justification to be descendants of Jesus’s earliest converts.
These indigenous Palestinian Christians have suffered alongside their Muslim compatriots from the dispossession and oppression meted out by the Zionist colonial-settler project.
People around the world have been expressing great sadness at the burning (almost certainly unintentional) of so much of the Notre Dame cathedral’s glory. But we should also be aware that Christians and Muslims in Palestine– like the congregations of so many historically African-American churches in the American South– face a very real fear that ideological extremists will be continuing to threaten their places of worship with arson and other atrocities.