16 youths detained by police in connection with suspected church arson

Marcy Oster

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Sixteen youths have been detained by police for questioning over a suspected arson attack on a historic church in northern Israel.

Fire broke out early Thursday morning at the Church of the Multiplication of the Loaves and Fishes, located on the northwest shore of the Sea of Galilee, at the site where Jesus is believed to have fed thousands of people with five loaves of bread and two fish. The church is built on the site of a 5th century church and contains restored mosaic floors from that time period. The mosaic floors reportedly were not damaged in the fire, according to Reuters.

Graffiti reading “False idols will be smashed” and “pagans” were found on the walls of the church, leading police to believe the fire was deliberately set as part of a hate crime. The Northern District Police are investigating the fire and graffiti.

The detained youths reportedly are residents of the West Bank and are being represented by the right-wing Honenu legal rights organization.


The Rabbis for Human Rights organization told Reuters that there have been 43 hate crime attacks against churches, mosques and monasteries in Israel, the West Bank and eastern Jerusalem since 2009.

The Council of Religious Institutions in the Holy Land condemned the attack in a statement.

“The Council of Religious Institutions of the Holy Land, representing the Chief Rabbinate of Israel, The Heads of the Local Churches of the Holy Land and the Courts of Sharia Law in the Palestinian Authority, calls on the police forces and respective authorities to do their utmost to bring the perpetrators to justice, to prevent such attacks and restore safety and respect for Holy Sites of all religions,” the statement said.

Lawmakers and Israel’s Ashkenazic Chief Rabbi David Lau also condemned the attack.

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