Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby condemned on Wednesday the desecration of the Protestant Cemetery on Mount Zion calling the vandalism of at least 30 tombstones a "blasphemous act."
“The desecration of Christian graves in Jerusalem is a blasphemous act. I join the chief rabbi and religious leaders in Jerusalem in condemning it," the archbishop said.
The desecration of the cemetery was partially captured on camera on Tuesday. A video posted Tuesday on social media shows two individuals desecrating graves at the cemetery. The two individuals appear to be Orthodox Jews, as they wear traditional skullcaps and traditional Jewish four-fringe garments. They are seen pulling a stone cross out of its place, toppling it and then smashing it with heavy rocks. Other pictures from the cemetery show that at least 30 more graves were desecrated, including the one of former Bishop of Jerusalem Samuel Gobat, who served between 1846 until 1880.
וידאו, שני יהודים משחיתים קברים בבית הקברות הפרוטסטנטי בהר ציון, אתמול. pic.twitter.com/NnCBvGkL6U— نير حسون Nir Hasson ניר חסון (@nirhasson) Jan. 3, 2023
The cemetery is located on the grounds and managed by Jerusalem University College, currently presided by Oliver Hersey. Hersey issued Tuesday a statement saying that the Mount Zion Police Department is working with staff at Jerusalem University College to identify two young men caught on security cameras throwing large pieces of marble crosses at the headstones.
Tag Meir, an Israeli nongovernmental organization that has been working for years in favor of coexistence and against hate crimes, has been following up on the incident. "We condemn with outrage the desecration of the Protestant Cemetery on Mount Zion in Jerusalem. The vandalism of 30 graves follows many 'price tag' [the phenomenon of vandalism by Jews against Christian and Muslim property] and hate crimes committed over the years at Dormition Abbey, at the Dajani family cemetery and at the religious college adjacent to the Orthodox Church," the statement read.
It continued that while the Israeli police has set up a station on the spot, it has failed to prevent the recurrence of these crimes.
The Protestant Cemetery is a historic site dating to the beginning of the 19th century. Several leading Christian figures are buried there, including senior archaeologists. There are also British Commonwealth War graves from both World War I and World War II.
The cemetery has been desecrated in the past, especially in 2013. Vandals had toppled stone crosses from graves and shuttered them to pieces; 15 tombstones were broken. Other attacks against Christian sites were also registered that year. The incident caused embarrassment for Israel vis-a-vis Great Britain and Germany. Representatives of both embassies called on Israeli authorities to increase protection of the site and bring those responsible of the desecration to justice. Police had detained four hilltop settlers in relation to the 2013 attack, but released them later, apparently for lack of evidence.
Price-tag attacks started some 15 years ago, where vandalism against Christian, Muslim and Palestinian properties, houses and religious sites is often accompanied by hate graffiti. The perpetrators regularly claim their acts were carried out as vengeance over terror acts against Jews. Israeli security authorities expressed concern last December on the rise in number of price-tag attacks in the West Bank against Palestinians.