December 21, 2014
Church attacks in Israel threaten to sour the Pope's visit
The top Roman Catholic cleric in the Holy Land said a spate of attacks against the Church have poisoned the atmosphere ahead of this month's visit by Pope Francis, and urged Israel to crack down on the perpetrators.
Fourteen attacks by suspected far-right Israelis have been reported in the past year. Several have been carried out over the last month, including a death threat daubed in Hebrew at the Assembly of Bishops at the Notre Dame Center in East Jerusalem.
The attacks have become known as "price tags" - a reference by ultranationalist Jews to making the Israeli government "pay" for any curbs on Jewish settlement on Palestinian land.
"There has been a marked increase of 'price tag' provocations within Israel," Fouad Twal, the Patriarch of Jerusalem, told reporters at a post-Easter procession in the city of Haifa, home to thousands of Israeli Arab church faithful.
Twal drew some encouragement from pledges by Israeli officials, notably Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon and Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, to crack down on "price tag" attackers.
"This wave of extremist actions of terror are surely of grave concern to all reasonable persons."
Twal said "the unrestrained acts of vandalism poison the atmosphere" ahead of Pope Francis' first pilgrimage to the Holy Land since ascending to the papacy. The pontiff will visit Jordan, the West Bank and Jerusalem from May 24 to 26.
Israeli officials say they have arrested dozens of suspected "price-taggers", though few have been convicted in the courts. Police say there are only a few score culprits, many known by name, but about half are minors to whom judges show leniency.