Israeli police on Wednesday arrested five haredi Jews on assault charges after they allegedly spat at Christians in Jerusalem’s Old City.
The ultra-Orthodox suspects, including one minor, were reportedly walking through the holy city’s Muslim Quarter when they spat at the entrance of a local church.
“We will not tolerate expressions of hatred towards anyone—Jews, Muslims or Christians in the Old City and anywhere else in Jerusalem,” said Jerusalem police chief Doron Turgeman following the arrests.
“Those who engage in such actions have a serious problem, primarily in their education, worldview and respect for others. We condemn this ugly act that damages the unique way of life that has existed in this area for many years, encompassing visitors, worshippers and tourists of all religions—Jews, Muslims and Christians, side by side,” he added.
The police statement included video footage of Wednesday’s incident and subsequent arrests.
Amid a recent uptick in isolated incidents of ultra-Orthodox Jewish extremists spitting at Christians, Turgeman said he had approved the formation of a special investigative team to tackle the phenomenon.
“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,” he said.
Commenting on a previous incident, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stated on Tuesday the Jewish state was “totally committed” to safeguarding the right of worship for people of all faiths. “I strongly condemn any attempt to intimidate worshippers, and I am committed to taking immediate and decisive action against it,” the prime minister added.
Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen likewise condemned what he called an “ugly” phenomenon. “Freedom of religion and worship are fundamental values in Israel,” tweeted Cohen. Hundreds of thousands of Christian tourists come to Israel every year to visit sites holy to both Christians and Jews, he added.
“I call on all citizens of Israel to respect the tradition and faith of all who come to the gates of Jerusalem, the holy city,” concluded Cohen’s post.
Thousands of evangelical supporters of Israel from around the globe have gathered in Jerusalem this week for the annual Feast of Tabernacles celebrations that run from Sept. 29 to Oct. 6.
The eight-day event, which is expected to be attended by 3,000 Christian pilgrims from more than 80 nations, is the flagship event organized by the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem, the largest Christian Zionist organization based in Israel’s capital.