Israeli police arrest five following uproar over Jews spitting on Christians

Jerusalem CNN  — 

Israel Police arrested five people Wednesday on suspicion of spitting towards Christians or churches in the Old City of Jerusalem, they announced, following an uproar a day earlier over Orthodox Jews spitting at Christian pilgrims.

Four of the suspects were arrested for incidents on Wednesday, and one for an incident earlier in the week, police said. Four are adults and one is a minor.

One of the individuals was arrested on assault charges, and the other four were arrested on suspicion of unlawful disorderly conduct, Israel Police told CNN. The one charged with assault spat on a person, while the others spat towards people, police said to explain the different charges.

One of the arrests is connected to the viral video from Monday of ultra-Orthodox Jews spitting on Christian pilgrims carrying a cross out of the Church of the Flagellation in the Old City, police said.

Father Matteo, a priest in the Old City, told CNN Wednesday there were sometimes 10 incidents of spitting a day near his monastery along the Via Dolorosa, the path that Christians believe Jesus walked to his crucifixion, with people calling it “an impure place.”

The priest said such incidents were not a problem for him, but for the spitters, “Because when people grow up with hatred and despising all the others… it’s really very sad for them.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu issued a statement Tuesday “strongly condemning any attempt to inflict harm on worshippers.”

“Israel is fully committed to safeguarding the sacred right of freedom of worship and pilgrimage to the holy sites of all faiths,” he said, vowing “urgent steps against such actions. Offensive behavior toward worshippers is a desecration and is unacceptable.”

On Wednesday, Israel Police announced the establishment of a special investigation team, the expansion of overt and covert operations, and consideration of imposing fines.

The Palestinian Authority Ministry of Foreign Affairs said the spitting was part of a wider problem that leads to physical violence.

“The practice of spitting on non-Jews reflects the spread of extremism in Israeli society, especially among extremist settlers, and it is an expression of an attitude that begins with spitting and then turns into beating and killing,” the ministry said in a statement Wednesday.

Jerusalem Police District Commander, Doron Turgeman, said police would not tolerate “expressions of hatred towards anyone, Jews, Muslims, or Christians in the Old City and anywhere else in Jerusalem.”

Referring to “spitting by extremists,” Turgeman said: “Those who engage in such actions have a serious problem, primarily in their education, world view, and respect for others.”

He said that many of the spitters were children and called for “significant and immediate involvement of educational, religious, and parental authorities… [to] make it clear that these actions are forbidden, unacceptable, and disgraceful.”

On Tuesday, Israel’s Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi David Lau strongly condemned “harm to any person and any religious leader. These immoral phenomena have certainly nothing to do with Jewish law.”

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