Israeli President Isaac Herzog visited the Stella Maris monastery in Haifa on Wednesday to express solidarity with the local Christian community in light of repeated attacks at the site by Jewish ultra-Orthodox extremists.
“In recent months, we have seen a very serious phenomenon toward the Christian denominations in the Holy Land," said Herzog. "Our brothers and sisters, Christian citizens, who feel attacked in their places of prayer, in their cemeteries, on the streets. I view this phenomenon as extreme and unacceptable in any shape or form. This phenomenon needs to be uprooted, and I am very grateful to the Israel Police and the law enforcement agencies for taking this issue seriously.”
For the past three months, dozens of members of the Hassidic Breslow sect have been arriving at the 17th-century monastery, mainly on Sundays, and holding prayers at the entrance. On at least two such occasions, the gathering ended in a brawl between the Hassidim and the Christian worshipers there to attend Sunday services. A few people have been slightly injured. After the altercations erupted, the monastery stationed guards at the site and began erecting a fence to better control the entrance to the site.
The Breslow claim that they only want to pray near the site where according to some Jewish traditions the prophet Alisha is buried. Haifa's Christian residents counter that the Hassidim seek confrontation and are purposely staging provocations to that end. The Christians note that there is no long-standing Jewish tradition of praying at the iconic Stella Maris complex. From their perspective, the change in the social climate in Israel since the establishment of the far-right government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has encouraged incitement against non-Jews. The Christian community fears that the confrontations will destroy the delicate coexistence in the mixed Jewish-Arab city.