Israeli Government to Compensate Torched Church

“‘When a stranger resides with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt; I am the Lord your God.” (Leviticus 19:34)

The Israel Justice Ministry announced it will compensate the  Church of the Multiplication in Tabgha for damage caused by an arson attack in June by two suspected Jewish extremists. In a statement on Monday, Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein said the church, “”should be compensated for the damages caused to it by the arson, in accordance with property tax regulations.”

The Property Tax Fund of the Tax Authority provides compensation to anyone suffering injury or damages as a result of war, terrorism or hate crimes relating to the Israel-Arab conflict or on the basis of ethnic-national background. Two weeks ago, the tax authority initially refused the church’s request for compensation, stating it was unclear that the attack was on “nationalistic” grounds. They reasoned the arson was perpetrated out of religious hatred not connected to the Israeli-Arab conflict.

The church’s leaders asked for help in the matter from  President Reuven Rivlin, who agreed with the church officials. The president’s office contacted Avichai Mandelblit, the cabinet secretary.

The justice ministry has overturned the decision, deciding that, based on the charges against the suspects, the attack was related to the Israeli-Arab conflict and instructed the tax authority to compensate the church. Church officials told AFP the sum requested was approximately seven million shekels.

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Though The Assembly of Catholic Bishops in Israel was happy with the outcome, they noted recent unresolved difficulties they have had with the Israeli government, underscoring what might be a larger problem.

“We welcome the decision of the Israeli attorney-general to offer compensation to the Benedictine Monastery (Church of Loaves and Fishes) in Tabgha, which was torched last June 18th by terrorists affiliated with radical right-wing in Israel,” the statement read.

“While we are glad for this just decision and wish to see it implemented in near future, we urge the Israeli authorities to offer just solutions to various causes, including that of the Christian schools which continues waiting for a just solution despite the passing of over 20 days since the beginning of the strike protesting cuts in [school] budgets by the Israeli Education Ministry.”

Though the church itself was not damaged in the attack, a building in the compound was completely destroyed and hate-speech graffiti was painted on the walls of another building.

Yinon Reuveni and Yehuda Asraf, were charged in connection with the arson and graffiti. Moshe Orbach was charged with writing and distributing a document about the “necessity” of attacking non-Jewish property and people and giving practical directions on how to do so.