American-born Rabbi Dov Lipman came bearing flowers and a message of peace, but he left the Abbey of Latroun with rolled up sleeves and eau de turpentine after he felt moved to personally respond to anti-Christian graffitti that had been spray-painted on the walls of monastery on the occupied West Bank. The 122-year old Cistercian monastery, 15 kilometers west of Jerusalem, had been vandalized during an arson attack on September 4, apparently the work of the right-wing, pro-settlement "price tag" group in retaliation for the dismantlement of Migron, a nearby illegal Israeli outpost, two days before. The "price tag" movement has authored similar attacks on Palestinian sites in the aftermath of moves against illegal Israeli settlements or outposts.
The early-morning attack was condemned by many Israelis, including Prime Minister Behjamin Netenyahu, and even the residents of the outpost which 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 West Bank outposts.
Rabbi Lipman had been accompanying a group which visited the abbey Wednesday in a show of soldarity. 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 [graffitti] 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. At first, the worker cleaning it hesitated, but then he gave me his brush and cleaning solution, and we didn’t walk away until it was removed. I’m glad we did. It was wonderful to be part of the ‘tikkun’ [repair]."
In a statment released today, the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem “strongly denounced this violence which creates animosity between communities.”
Yesterday 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."
Labor Party leader Shelly Yacimovich called the attack "hooliganism and racism." She said such acts damage Israel's image. She also noted that the monastery had been a welcoming place for Israeli visitors for decades and the fact that it was hit by vandals indicates "extreme hatred [by the attackers] for anyone and everyone, regardless of their political position."
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."
“This was a sickening act that has made victims of innocent Christian residents of Israel,” said J.C.P.A. President Rabbi Steve Gutow. “We join with the Patriarchate and the Israeli government in standing with our Christian friends and condemning this violence. The hatred by a few will not erode the relationships among all communities—religious or ethnic—that make Israel’s open democracy so strong and admirable."
"We understand from our own experiences the terrible fear that comes from being targeted for nothing but your religion. These monks and those they serve are in our prayers," said J.C.P.A. Chair Larry Gold. "Instead of isolating them, as these thugs intended, our communities here and in Israel are standing closer together. Strong interfaith relationships and mutual understanding continue to be the best antidotes to extremism and hate."