Israel Police in Jerusalem said it arrested five suspects – one minor and four adults – Wednesday morning for allegedly spitting at Christians and their holy sites in the Old City.
One of the suspects appeared in a video earlier this week where a group of Orthodox Jews can be seen spitting at Christian pilgrims as they march through the Old City. The other suspects spat at Christian visitors Wednesday morning and were immediately arrested.
The video was shared on social media, sparking outcry from public officials, including the prime minister and chief rabbis.
Three of the suspects were apprehended after being identified by police surveillance personnel. The offense for which the police arrested the suspects is assault.
Jerusalem District Commander: violence and hatred unacceptable
The Jerusalem District commander ordered the establishment of a special investigation team to address this issue.
“In light of the various challenges we face, particularly these days, it is essential to continue overt and covert operational activity in this context at relevant locations in the Old City,” Commander Doron Turgeman said.
“Given the fact that the vast majority of spitting incidents towards Christians are not reported, we need to initiate identification and handling of such cases and incorporate surveillance cameras, officers in the field, network monitoring, and all available means for real-time or retrospective monitoring, and conduct investigative actions against those involved in the cases involving the charge of religious affront.”
Furthermore, the Jerusalem District will undertake additional actions required to mitigate these acts, and instructions have been given to examine a process that would enable the imposition of administrative fines.
“We will not tolerate expressions of hatred towards anyone, whether Jews, Muslims, or Christians, in the Old City and anywhere else in Jerusalem,” Turgeman said.
“Violence and hatred, however they manifest themselves, are unacceptable. Unfortunately, we continue to witness this shameful and ugly phenomenon of expressing hatred towards Christians in the Old City of Jerusalem.”
He said those who engage in such behavior “have a severe problem with education, worldview, and respect for others.”
Incident comes while thousands of Christians visit Israel for Sukkot
About two months ago, Turgeman met with Christian denominations and church heads. At the end of the meeting, it was agreed to strengthen cooperation and to hold periodic meetings.
Tens of thousands of Christians are in Israel for Sukkot, which they call the Feast of Tabernacles. On Wednesday, thousands marched through Jerusalem’s streets in solidarity with the Jewish people and state.
Ahead of the march, the International Christian Embassy in Jerusalem issued a statement thanking Israeli officials for “their strong statements of support for religious freedom in this country and their disapproval of recent acts meant to humiliate or harm Christians.”
However, ICEJ said Christians must also “admit there is a much longer, painful history of Christian hostility towards the Jewish people.
“But thankfully, there has been a sea change in Christian attitudes concerning the nation and people of Israel in our day,” the statement continued. “The vast majority of Israelis we encounter know this and have warmly welcomed us in Jerusalem for Sukkot once again. We truly appreciate sharing in the joy of this unique biblical festival with our Jewish friends and will not be deterred from loving and standing with Israel.”