American tourist arrested in Jerusalem after smashing Jesus statue

American tourist ‘armed with a hammer’ is arrested in Jerusalem for smashing up a statue of Jesus in a church on the historic Via Dolorosa and shouting: ‘You can’t have idols, this is the holy city’

  • A tourist in the Old City of Jerusalem tore down statue of Jesus and was arrested
  • A witness described the accused as a Jewish man armed with a hammer 

Israeli police arrested an American tourist today suspected of vandalizing a Jesus statue in a church in the Old City of Jerusalem.

The suspect, who is in his forties, damaged a statue of Jesus in the Church of Flagellation on the historic Via Dolorosa, a processional route believed to be the path Jesus took to his crucifixion.

He was detained after shouting at security guards:  ‘You can’t have idols in Jerusalem. This is the holy city.’ 

Police said the man’s mental health was being assessed. The American Embassy  declined to comment.

The statue of Jesus after it was vandalized at the Chapels of the Condemnation and Flagellation church at Station II in the Via Dolorosa, in the Old City of Jerusalem

A priest cleans up after a wooden statue of Jesus was pulled down and damaged in the Church of the Condemnation, where Christians believe Jesus was flogged and sentenced to death

Images on social media showed the statue – which arrived from Spain in 1912 – laying horizontally on the floor after apparently being pulled down from a stand at the church.

Majid al-Rishq, a gatekeeper who detained the accused, described him as Jewish man armed with a hammer.

Idolatry – the worship of idols and the artistic representation of God – is prohibited in Judaism. 

‘He started hitting the statue of Christ in the Church of the Condemnation… I was able to grab him and pull him off it, but he knocked the statue off and broke it,’ Rishq told AFP.

‘I grabbed him and then the priests came and called the police,’ he added.

In a joint effort, the police officers from the David Precinct, together with border police officers and with the assistance of the church security guard, arrested the suspect in the act. 

The incident came as tensions run high in Jerusalem and the region following a bloody week. 

An Israeli military raid in the West Bank killed 10 Palestinians, mostly militants but also a 61-year-old woman. 

A Palestinian shooting attack outside a synagogue in east Jerusalem killed seven people, including a 14-year-old.

A video showed the vandal being detained in Church of the Flagellation in Jerusalem

Vandal being detained in Church of the Flagellation in the Old City of Jerusalem

A gatekeeper tackled the man to the ground and detained him after he broke the statue 

The statue arrived from Spain in 1912 and was housed in the Church of the Condemnation 

The unrest comes in the first weeks of Israel’s new, far-right government, some of whose ultranationalist, religious members have used inflammatory, anti-Arab rhetoric.

Benjamin Netanyahu returned as prime minister of Israel in December 2022. 

Father Nikodemus Schnabel of the Dormition Abbey just outside the Old City linked the incident to the government’s character.

‘Welcome to the new Christian-hating Israel, encouraged and supported by the current government!’ he tweeted. 

Police told AFP that two Jewish people had been arrested over an attack on Armenian Christians in the Old City on Saturday.

Last month, Christian graves were desecrated on Mount Zion, where Christians believe Jesus’ Last Supper took place. 

Police said they view damage to religious institutions as serious.

They said in a statement: ‘The police will continue to act with determination against violence and vandalism in the holy sites of all religions. 

‘We will also continue to work in maintaining security and order. 

‘The Israel Police is unwavering in its efforts against lawbreakers wherever they may be, including those who harm holy places and religious sentiments.’

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