Spitting triggers tension in Jerusalem’s Old City

Spitting triggers tension in Jerusalem’s Old City
By Michele Green

Ecumenical News International, Switzerland
Oct 15 2004

Jerusalem (ENI). Tensions in Jerusalem’s Old City have flared following
an incident in which a Jewish seminary student spat at an archbishop
during a procession from the city’s Armenian Quarter to the Church of
the Holy Sepulchre, a site commemorating Jesus’ crucifixion and burial.

Israeli police arrested the seminary student, but Christian clerics
living in the walled Old City say such assaults by ultra-Orthodox
Jews are a frequent occurrence.

“It happens maybe once a week,” Armenian Bishop Aris Shirvanian told
Ecumenical News International. “As soon as they notice a Christian
clergyman they spit. Those who are ‘respectful’ turn their backs to
us or the large cross that we may carry but the ones that are daring
either spit on the ground or on the person without any provocation
on our part.”

In the incident on Sunday, a cross was ripped from the archbishop’s
neck when a scuffle broke out after the Jewish seminary student spat
at the cleric. The seminary student later told police he had done it
because he saw the religious procession as idolatry. Police said the
man had been temporarily banned from visiting the Old City and that
he had been placed on bail pending an indictment.

Bishop Shirvanian said spitting against Christian clergyman had been
going on for years and that the assailants were religious Jews,
sometimes men but also women, teenagers and even children. “This
shows that it is a phenomenon that is prevailing in their religious
education and it should be corrected,” he said.

Daniel Rossing, director of the Jerusalem Center for Jewish-Christian
relations, said his organization was collating accounts of spitting
incidents so they could approach rabbis and demand they teach their
congregants to stop such attacks.

“All people are created in the image of God and to spit on another
person is to spit on the image of God,” Rossing said. He said that
usually the assailants were ultra-Orthodox Jews and the victims were
“people wearing liturgical vestments or are wearing a manifest
Christian symbol such as a cross”. Rossing said he believed the
attacks were carried out due to intolerance towards Christians by
ultra-Orthodox Jews as well as to anger from religious persecution
in past centuries.

Israeli police spokesman Gil Kleiman said few Christians file
complaints with police about such assaults and unless they did it
was impossible to arrest and prosecute the assailants.

“We can only act when we have been informed by a complainant. When
we do know about it we act immediately to arrest the person who did
it and bring them to justice,” Kleiman said.

The Israeli newspaper Haaretz said in a 12 October editorial: “It
is intolerable that Christian citizens of Jerusalem suffer from the
shameful spitting at or near a crucifix. Similar behaviour toward Jews
anywhere in the world would immediately prompt vehement responses.”