Israel monastery defaced in apparent political act

JERUSALEM (AP) — Vandals defaced a monastery Wednesday near Jerusalem, police said, in the latest in a series of similar incidents blamed on extremists.

Police spokeswoman Luba Samri said minor damage, likely caused by a firebomb, affected the exterior of the Beit Gemal Monastery. Samri said the phrase “price tag” was scrawled onto a wall and that police were investigating.

In recent years, vandals have targeted mosques, churches, monasteries, dovish Israeli groups and even Israeli military bases to protest what they perceive as the Israeli government’s pro-Palestinian policies in the West Bank. Vandals call the attacks the “price tag” for the policies they oppose.

What began as small-scale attacks against Palestinians and their crops in the West Bank in response to Palestinian militant attacks or Israeli measures against settlements have since evolved into hate crimes inside Israel proper. Last December, a Greek Orthodox monastery in Jerusalem was spray-painted with anti-Christian messages. Mosques have been burned and defaced with slogans insulting the Prophet Muhammad.

Nobody has been killed in the violence, which has increasingly targeted symbols of coexistence, and it remains relatively tame in the context of the bloody Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But critics say the racist undertones of the vandalism endanger the state in even greater ways, by undermining the country’s stated goal of being a tolerant society that respects its minorities.

Israeli leaders across the political spectrum have condemned the attacks.

Later Wednesday, lawmaker Dov Lipman from the centrist Yesh Atid faction visited the monastery where he presented flowers and expressed outrage over the attack.

“This act runs counter to the Jewish way,” Atid said. “It is critical that we live in peace and respect with those who hold different beliefs. I hope the police will catch the perpetrators very soon and that justice will be served.”

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