Anglican Church and UK condemn desecration of Jerusalem graves

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Archbishop Hosam Naoum inspects a desecrated grave at the Protestant Cemetery on Mount Zion in Jerusalem (4 January 2023)Image source, Reuters
Image caption,
Anglican Archbishop Hosam Naoum said hate speech and hate crimes were on the rise in Jerusalem

The Anglican Church and United Kingdom have expressed "dismay" at an attack on a historic cemetery close to Jerusalem's walled Old City.

More than 30 graves at the Protestant Cemetery on Mount Zion were desecrated on Sunday. Crosses were broken and headstones toppled and smashed.

Jewish extremists have been blamed for the vandalism.

"We have noticed that hatred speech and hatred crimes are on the rise," Anglican Archbishop Hosam Naoum said.

Standing next to the vandalised grave of the second Anglican bishop of Jerusalem, Samuel Gobat, he said there had been a recent increase in spitting at Christians and attacks on their holy sites.

"This is only an indication that we are not in a place where people can tolerate each other or accept each other," Archbishop Naoum added.

"We see more exclusion, more segregation and that is what really grieves us in this city of Jerusalem."

Image caption,
Israeli police said they were investigating Sunday's attack on the Protestant Cemetery

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, the most senior cleric in the Church of England, called the desecration of the graves "a blasphemous act" and expressed hope that those responsible would be brought swiftly to justice.

"As we continue to pray for peace in the Holy Land, I stand with Archbishop Hosam Naoum and other Jerusalem church leaders in calling for respect, protection, equality and justice for its Christian community - who are the Living Stones of the Church," he added.

In a tweet, the British consulate in Jerusalem said: "This is the latest in a string of attacks against Christians and their property in and around the Old City. The perpetrators of religiously motivated attacks should be held accountable."

The Israeli ministry of foreign affairs also condemned the vandalism at the cemetery. "This immoral act is an affront to religion and the perpetrators should be prosecuted," it tweeted.

Security camera footage shows two young men carrying out the attack. They are wearing kippahs, or skullcaps, and knotted fringes known as tzitzit on their clothes, indicating they are religious Jews.

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Israeli police said they had visited the cemetery to see the damage and were investigating what happened.

The cemetery was set up in 1848, on land bought by Bishop Gobat, and is looked after by the Lutheran and Anglican communities.

Among those buried there are scientists, politicians, members of the armed forces and clergy, many of whom were prominent figures in the holy city.

Image source, Oliver Hersey
Image caption,
The tombstone of British Army soldier Private J Stewart was among those destroyed

Three Commonwealth war graves of Palestinian police officers were among those attacked, while several stone crosses were seen lying broken on the ground.

The Anglican Church said the targeting of the crosses clearly suggests "these criminal acts were motivated by religious bigotry and hatred against Christians".

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) told the BBC it was "appalled" by the vandalism.

"A very small number of CWGC headstones were damaged - we are co-operating closely with the authorities on the matter and our in-country staff are already working to carry out full repairs and return the graves to their normal condition," a spokesperson said.

The same cemetery was vandalised in a similar way nine years ago.

The Anglican Church said it had received supportive words from Israel's president, the chief rabbi of the Commonwealth, Sir Ephraim Mirvis, and other political and religious leaders.

It called for join efforts to combat "violent acts of defilement against sacred sites" and to create a safer, more respectful and tolerant environment in Jerusalem, which is revered by Christians, Jews and Muslims.