‘Price tag’ attacks foul pope’s Israel visit, Jerusalem patriarch says

Marcy Oster

ROME (JTA) –  Two weeks ahead of Pope Francis’s trip to the Holy Land, the Roman Catholic Patriarch of Jerusalem said vandal attacks by suspected Jewish extremists “poison the atmosphere” of the papal visit.

Patriarch Fouad Twal, the Church’s senior cleric in the Holy Land, described the so-called “price tag” attacks as acts of “terror” and called on Israel to crack down on the perpetrators.

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Twal made his call at a news conference on Sunday in Haifa, ahead of the annual Our Lady of Mount Carmel procession.

Israel has seen a spate of incidents where mainly Christian and Muslim sites have been spray painted with threats and racist insults. These have been dubbed “price tag” attacks, referring to threats by ultra-nationalist Jews that the government would “pay the price” for curbing Jewish settlement in Palestinian areas.

“This wave of extremist actions of terror is surely of grave concern to all reasonable persons,” Twal said. “The government of Israel must be concerned, because it is very bad for the State of Israel’s image abroad.”

“It is also a blight on the democracy that Israel ascribes to itself,” he added, “At this point, the unrestrained acts of vandalism poison the atmosphere, the atmosphere of coexistence and the atmosphere of collaboration, especially in these two weeks prior to the visit of Pope Francis.”

The pope is scheduled to visit Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian Authority May 24- May 26.

Twal acknowledged that the Israeli government is attempting to deal with the issue but said so far it is not doing enough.

“The actions are only drawing condemnation by Israeli leaders but few arrests,” he said. But he said he was “encouraged” that Justice Minister Tzipi Livni held an emergency meeting last week with senior security officials “to combat this senseless vandalism.”

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