AMMAN: The Palestinian government and church leaders condemned the Israeli police’s handling of an incident on Tuesday — Christmas Day — when a young Jewish man armed with a knife entered the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem.
A spokesman for the Israeli police, Miki Rosenfeld, told Arab News that the incident was not dangerous and that the man was released without charge after questioning.
“An individual approached the area. He was spotted by the police when he walked into the church. The police removed him and asked him what he was doing, and it became clear from his replies and his behavior that this was an unstable man,” Rosenfeld said. “After he was questioned, he was released.”
Rosenfeld refused to name the man, claiming: “People don’t have the right to know his name because he was not arrested.” Asked if Israeli police would extend the same right of anonymity to Palestinians in similar circumstances, he declined to comment.
Hanna Issa, head of the Islamic Christian Committee for Jerusalem, told Arab News that the police’s actions were insufficient and would cause concern among local Christians and tourists.
“If the attacker committed a crime he should be sent to jail,” Issa said. “If he was mentally ill, he should be sent to a mental hospital. But in either case, he should not (have been) released.”
The Palestinian Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a statement saying that the perpetrator was released 30 minutes after the incident.
“The church was full of Christian worshipers and tourists; the aim was to terrorize them and to indicate that Christians are not wanted in the occupied Palestinian areas,” the statement claimed.
Palestinian Minister of Tourism Rula May’ah told Arab News that the attack was part of an orchestrated campaign targeting tourism in Palestine. “This is part of a continuous set of attacks by the Israeli occupiers on our people and our holy places, but it will not succeed in affecting tourism to Palestine,” May’ah said, adding that a record 3.25 million tourists visited Bethlehem in 2019.
Rosenfeld insisted that the man armed with a knife posed no threat, and that tourism was unaffected. “Tourism in the area is functioning, thousands are able to visit the church without any problems,” he said.
Dimitri Diliani, president of the Jerusalem-based National Christian Coalition, said he held the Israeli government responsible for the incident, and for the leniency that was shown to the attacker.
“This is a ridiculous claim,” Diliani said of Rosenfeld’s remarks that the incident was not dangerous. “The Israeli police acted to protect a Jewish terrorist. There is clear evidence of Israeli institutional racism and the dehumanization of Palestinians. If (the detained man) was Palestinian, he would have been shot on the spot, even if he didn’t pose a threat — as we have witnessed many times.”
The Foreign Ministry’s statement also questioned whether the man was acting of his own accord or whether he was following someone else’s directives. “Was he sent on purpose at this special time for Christians around the world to hurt Christian tourism in the Palestinian areas?” the statement asked.