The Archbishop of Canterbury has condemned the desecration of tombs at the Anglican cemetery in Jerusalem by Jewish zealots as a “blasphemous act”.
On 31 December 2022 two bearded men wearing kippot (Jewish skullcaps) and Tzitzits (knotted ritual or tassels) below their shirts were filmed by security cameras toppling tombstones and smashing memorials at the Mount Zion Cemetery owned by the Church Missionary Trust Association. Among the graves destroyed was that of the Rt. Rev. Samuel Gobat, the second Anglican bishop in Jerusalem.
There has been an upswing of vandalism at Christian sites across Israel in recent years, which church authorities blame on Jewish extremists. In the Palestinian territories Christian sites are also subject to vandalism and destruction by jihadist groups. In December 2021 the Patriarchs and bishops of the Christian churches in Jerusalem warned their communities were at risk of being driven from their ancestral homes by radicals bent on eliminating the Christian presence in Israel and Palestine.
On 4 January 2023, the Archbishop of Canterbury’s press office released a statement saying:
The Archbishop of Canterbury has condemned the desecration of Christian graves in Jerusalem on Sunday as “a blasphemous act”.
More than 30 graves were vandalized at the Protestant Cemetery on Mount Zion, including crosses being broken and headstones and icons smashed.
Archbishop Justin Welby said today:
“The desecration of Christian graves in Jerusalem is a blasphemous act. I join the Chief Rabbi and religious leaders in Jerusalem in condemning it and hope those responsible will be brought swiftly to justice. As we continue to pray for peace in the Holy Land, I stand with Archbishop Hosam Naoum and other Jerusalem church leaders in calling for respect, protection, equality and justice for its Christian community – who are the Living Stones of the church.”
The Archbishop has frequently highlighted the plight of Palestinian Christian communities in the Holy Land, who he has visited twice since taking office in 2013. Writing jointly with the Anglican Archbishop in Jerusalem in the Sunday Times last Christmas, the Archbishop warned that the concerted attempt by fringe, radical groups to drive ancient Christian communities away from the Holy Land – combined with the pressures they face living under Israeli occupation – was “a historic tragedy unfolding in real time.”