One of my coleagues at the Church of Scotland, Rev Loren McGrail and I visited the Monastery at Bet Gemail (there are a whole range of spellings for this Monastery near Beit Shemesh) yesterday. We visited as we had heard of an attack on the church. It fits into a series of attacks on churches in Israel that have taken place over the last few years (the most famous of which was the arson attack on the Church of the Loaves and Fishes at Tabga). I had just returned from Syria where I saw icons defaced by Jihadist Islamic groups such as Isis. Many of them had the faces of the figures on the icons disfigured. I was appalled by the similar destruction at the Church of St Stephen. We were told that this had been carried out by extreamist Jews from Beit Shemesh. I deplore any desecration of holy site of any religion. I was shocked to see this church left in this state.
A set of stained glass window with images of saint were broken with a focus upon the faces of the saints, other damage was done that was clearly aimed specifically at the Christian nature of this place of worship.
This was the second attack on this church – two years ago the graveyard was attacked and the crosses on the graves were all destroyed. Crosses in the Church were also a target.
It is thought that the attackers got into the Monastery through a side gate that had inadvertently been left unlocked.
It important to say that some Jewish Rabbis having heard of the attack have visited the church and expressed their horror at what has taken place. However there is real concern that the perpetrators of the last attack, two years ago, have never been apprehended – and that there is a scepticism on the part of those at the church whether there is any serious attempt being made to find those who untook this attack.
The church is an ancient one and quite beautiful, traditionally thought to be near to the site where St Stephen – the first Christian martyr – was buried.
It is hard to find out how many churches in Israel have been attacked – there don’t seem to be any statistics available, but it is clear that there have been a significant number – and it would seem that the frequency is increasing.
Please pray for an end to this destruction.