Jerusalem (AsiaNews) – Israeli tax officials have rejected an appeal for compensation from the Catholic Church for the damage caused to the ancient Church of the Multiplication of Loaves and Fishes, in Tabgha, on the Sea of Galilee, in an arson attack on 17 June.
The building suffered a similar attack in April 2014, on the eve of Pope Francis’ apostolic visit to the Holy Land. In the latest case, in addition to the fire, graffiti in biblical Hebrew were scribbled on one wall, urging Israel to throw out those worshipping pagan gods. The words come from a prayer practicing Jews repeat three times a day asking God to destroy idols and pagans.
Although Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defence Minister Moshe Ya’alon both referred to June’s attack as an act of terrorism, the Israel Tax Authority disagrees. The attack by Jewish extremists (including Meir Ettinger, who is a suspect in the attack in the village of Douma) is not considered terrorist in nature because it does not fit the definition as an act of violence stemming from the Israeli-Arab conflict.
Under existing Israeli law, the government compensates victims of terrorist attacks and war for damage to property. For Israeli tax officials, the Catholic Church’s appeal for compensation is therefore not acceptable because the attack against the holy site was not terrorist in nature.
In fact, Tax Authority official Amir Cohen wrote to the church earlier this week saying, “I wasn’t convinced that it was damage whose origin was ‘an act of violence’ as defined in the property tax regulations, that is to say an act of violence stemming from the Israel-Arab conflict."
In view of the official state response, Catholic Church officials appealed to President Reuven Rivlin, who visited the Church of the Multiplication before his state visit to the Vatican last week.
The president’s office in turn took up the matter with the Government Secretary’s office, which said it would find a solution to the issue.
The Tabgha attack is not an isolated incident. In recent years, others places of worship have been attacked, including the church near the Upper Room, the Basilica of Nazareth, as well as other Catholic and Greek-Orthodox places of worship.
Muslim mosques and places of worship have also been targeted in what Israeli extremists call a "price tag" on Christians and Muslims for having "taken away their land."
Once such actions were limited to areas on the border with the West Bank and in Jerusalem, but now they have spread to other parts of Israel proper.