It is “normal” for Jews to spit on Christians in the streets of Jerusalem, a senior Catholic church leader in that city, Father Pierbattista Pizzaballa, custos (Latin for guardian ) of holy sites on behalf of the Vatican has said.
Quoted in an interview in the Haaretz newspaper after a new arson and vandalism attack on a Trappist Monastery in Latrun, upon which the words “Jesus was a monkey” was scrawled in Hebrew, Pizzaballa cautioned Israelis over how Christians are treated in Israel.
In a reference to the long-standing, continual incidents of Orthodox Jewish extremists in Jerusalem spitting at Christian clergy, Pizzaballa said: “When I came to the country, I was told that I should know that if I walk around with a frock in the city [of Jerusalem], people would spit on me, and I shouldn’t be offended, it’s normal.”
No matter how high his position, any priest who makes his way around the city will sooner or later be spat upon and cursed by a yeshiva student, he added.
Pizzaballa, who has been living in Israel for 22 years, is the head of the Franciscan order in the Middle East. As custos, he is one of the senior figures in the Catholic Church and has custody of most of the Christian holy sites in the country, including Jerusalem’s Church of the Holy Sepulcher, which Christians regard as the site of Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection, and Bethelem’s Church of the Nativity.
After more than two decades here, he said he knows the areas of Jerusalem where he is at risk of being spat upon, including the area of Jaffa Gate and the Armenian Quarter.
This week’s vandalism at the Latrun monastery is the latest in a recent streak of attacks on Christian institutions.
In February, following incidents in Jerusalem, Pizzaballa wrote to President Shimon Peres that in recent years, he and his colleagues had learned to ignore provocations, but that now they were escalating to the point that they had become intolerable.
Following his letter to Peres, however, anti-Christian animosity even surfaced in the Knesset, after Christian bibles were sent to parliament members and National Union MK Michael Ben Ari ripped a copy of the New Testament in front of the camera.
“It was shocking,” said Pizzaballa. “If you as a Jew want people to respect you, you need to respect others. There are billions of Christians for whom this book is holy.”
He also took exception to what he said was the weak response by the political system and the public at large to Ben Ari’s act, saying it was limited to statements that Ben Ari didn’t need to do what he did. “It’s a lack of sensitivity,” said the cleric. “Such a serious thing occurs and no one does anything. In practice, it negates our existence here.”