04/16/2015, 00.00
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Maronite vicar says Israeli police doing nothing to catch vandals who attacked Christian graveyard

Scores of graves and tombstones were desecrated in the Maronite cemetery of Kafr Bir’im. “It is the sixth attack in ten years,” said Mgr Salim Soussan. Maronites will hold a Mass and torchlight vigil to demand justice.

Jerusalem (AsiaNews) – Scores of "tombs and gravestones have been damaged, several crosses have been broken. The cemetery’s caretaker called us right away. The attack surprised us, even if it is not the first,” said Mgr Salim Soussan, vicar general of the Archeparchy of Haifa and the Holy Land of the Maronites, as he commented the attack (pictured) that took place yesterday in the cemetery of Kafr Bir’im, a Maronite village in northern Israel, not far from the border with Lebanon.

Acts of violence against churches, cemeteries, convents and other religious buildings have become commonplace in the country with fingers pointed mostly at Jewish extremists.

“This is the seventh time that the cemetery has been targeted, the sixth in the past ten years, and the police has never been able to find those responsible,” the Maronite Church leader said.

Police opened an investigation after receiving a report about damages to a number of graves at the Christian cemetery in Kafr Bir’im, with tombstones "broken and displaced."

Kafr Bir’im is a derelict Palestinian village whose inhabitants were evicted by Israeli forces 1948 six months after Israel was established and never allowed to return.

The Israeli army later razed the village in 1953.

Israeli settlers might be behind the incident involving the Christian cemetery. In the past, they have targeted mosques and other Muslim sites as part of their ‘price tag’ policy, ‘actions undertaken by Israeli extremists against Christians and Muslims for "taking away their land."

This kind of incidents used to occur along the border with the West Bank and in Jerusalem, now they are happening in Israel proper.

Speaking about the attack against the cemetery of Kafr Bir’im, the Maronite vicar general said, "We complain to the police every time, but so far nothing has been done to find the culprits.”

“It is not up to us to say who is behind the attack,” he added; “however, we want to know the facts about incidents once and for all.”

The Bishops' Conference of the Holy Land strongly condemned the desecration of the Maronite cemetery.

"Yesterday Maronite priests and their bishop held an emergency meeting,” Mgr Soussan said. “They decided that next Saturday, 18 April, a Mass will be celebrated in the village for the dead whose graves were desecrated."

"A candlelight vigil will follow,” he added, “from the church to the cemetery,” a peaceful but strong protest "against what happened."

Ultimately, "It is not our job to determine what religious or political factors might be behind the act,” said Mgr Soussan. However, "if Israeli authorities want to find those responsible, they certainly have the means to do so. Perhaps they lack the will to do so,” he said. Still, “we want justice."

Last year, Card Beshara al-Rahi, the Lebanese patriarch of the Maronite Church, paid a historic trip to the Holy Land during which he visited Kafr Bir’im, pledging to help the displaced villagers return. There are some 11,400 Maronite Catholics living in Israel.

On Tuesday, Israeli President Reuven Rivlin met with Church leaders in Jerusalem's Old City, pledging to crack down on religiously inspired hate crime. (DS)

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