Israeli police have reportedly arrested an American tourist for vandalizing a sculpture of Jesus Christ at the Church of the Flagellation in Jerusalem’s Old City. Images of the damaged statue on the ground spread across social media on Thursday, February 2, showing a fracture around the shin and a break at the nose.
The Associated Press reports that a security guard helped police arrest the tourist, who has not been named, after he allegedly knocked the statue over. In a video, the detained suspect screams, “You can’t have idols; it’s in the second commandment,” referring to a line in chapter 20 of the Book of Exodus in the Bible.
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Reports say the man is undergoing a mental health assessment. On social media, some users made reference to the so-called “Jerusalem syndrome,” a psychotic state triggered by proximity to holy places and typically characterized by religious delusions. There is no information confirming a case of the syndrome at this stage.
Custodia Terrae Sanctae, the Catholic order that protects the holy sites in Jerusalem, wrote in a statement that the incident is one of five anti-Christian attacks made in Jerusalem since January 2023. They cited the cases of a vandalized Christian cemetery and targeted shootings in a Christian quarter of Jerusalem.
“We follow with concern and strongly condemn this growing succession of serious acts of hatred and violence against the Christian community in Israel,” the statement reads. “It is no coincidence that the legitimization of discrimination and violence in public opinion and in the current Israeli political environment also translates into acts of hatred and violence against the Christian community.”
The incident comes after a week of intense conflict in the West Bank and East Jerusalem following the ascension of Israel’s new far-right government led by Benjamin Netanyahu. On January 26, Israeli troops killed 10 Palestinians in the West Bank during a deadly raid. In East Jerusalem, an armed Palestinian opened fire near a synagogue and killed seven people.
The Church of the Flagellation stands on the Via Dolorosa, a path believed to be the road to Jesus’s crucifixion. The sanctuary memorializes Jesus receiving his cross. Pilgrims will walk along the road as a meditative exercise, reflecting on Jesus’s journey to the cross.
The United States Embassy in Israel has yet to respond to a request for comment.