American-born Rabbi Dov Lipman came bearing flowers and a message of peace, but he left the Abbey of Latroun, an oasis of worship along the border between the occupied West Bank and Israel, with rolled-up sleeves and the faint aroma of paint remover. Lipman had felt moved to respond personally to anti-Christian graffiti spray-painted on the walls of the monastery. The 122-year-old Cistercian abbey, 10 miles west of Jerusalem, had been vandalized on Sept. 4, apparently the work of the right-wing, pro-settlement “price tag” group in retaliation for the eviction of the residents at Migron, a nearby illegal Israeli outpost, two days before.
Migron’s status had been disputed for years in Israeli courts before its 50 families were finally evicted. The outpost had been built at least in part on privately owned Palestinian lands. The “price tag” movement has been responsible for similar attacks on Palestinian sites in the aftermath of such moves against illegal Israeli settlements or outposts. The attackers normally target Palestinians and Arabs and usually involve the torching and vandalism of cars, mosques and olive trees. But “price tag” attacks have widened in scope. Recent targets have included Israeli anti-settlement activists and Baptist and Greek Orthodox houses of worship—even the Israeli army.
The early-morning attack at Latroun was condemned by the U.S. State Department, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, average Israelis and even the residents of the outpost that had been evacuated. Vandals set fire to the entrance door of the monastery and spray-painted anti-Christian slogans in Hebrew on its walls along with the names of Migron and other West Bank outposts.
Rabbi Lipman had been accompanying a group of religious and secular Israelis who visited the abbey the morning after the attack in a show of solidarity. He said: “When we were just about to leave and workers were cleaning the door of the monastery that was lit on fire, and there was a guy who was scrubbing [graffiti] that said ‘Jesus was a monkey,’ I felt, how could I just give them flowers and walk away while this terrible thing another Jew did was up there. So I asked if we could help clean it away…. We didn’t walk away until it was removed. I’m glad we did. It was wonderful to be part of the ‘tikkun’ [repair].”
Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak condemned the attack and issued a call “to the Shin Bet, the police and state prosecution to tackle Jewish terrorism.” He said, “This must be fought with an iron fist, and we must put an end to these severe phenomenon that stain the name of the state of Israel. We are obligated to uproot this phenomenon.”
A statement from the Jewish Council for Public Affairs deplored the “disgusting attack, painful to the Christian community and all who hold mutual understanding, diversity, and tolerance to be important democratic values.” The Assembly of Catholic Ordinaries of the Holy Land urged Israeli authorities to “act to put an end to this senseless violence and to ensure a ‘teaching of respect’ in schools for all those who call this land home.”
The Palestinian Authority also called on Israel to bring the perpetrators to justice. “Several mosques have been attacked in recent months, but little or nothing has been done,” said a P.A. statement. “The extremist policies of the Israeli government, marked by intolerance, encourage settler hate crimes against Palestinians and their places of worship.”