Spitting on them is an improvement from having the IDF snipers killing them like they did several years back.
The Washington Post reports that on 20 October 2001, in front of the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, 17-year-old Orthodox altar server Johnny Thalgieh was shot from afar by Israeli army sinpers. Struck in the chest by a large-caliber bullet, he was hoisted skyward, cried out, fell, rolled three times, and died on the spot. Johnny, who had hoped to become an Orthodox priest, was visiting with his cousins in Manger Square, after attending Vespers in the church. A Greek Orthodox priest, Fr. Theophanis, said, "He was loving toward every human being...I feel I have lost one of my family." Ibrahim Abdullah, 20, a Muslim friend, said that some of Johnny's friends sometimes threw stones at the Israeli soldiers, but that Johnny never did, "He just wasn't violent like that."
JERUSALEM (JTA) -- From his ceramics gallery along Armenian Patriarchate Road, Garo Sandrouni has a sweeping view of one of the Old City of Jerusalem's longest thoroughfares, stretching from Jaffa Gate deep into the Jewish Quarter.
Jewish worshipers heading to and from the Western Wall jostle for space along the narrow passage with Armenian priests and seminarians, and Sandrouni says about once a week he finds himself breaking up fights between them.
Typically the skirmishes begin when a young yeshiva student spits on or near a group of teenage seminarians, who occasionally respond by beating up their attacker. Several years ago, a young religious man pulled a gun when Sandrouni moved to intervene in a fight.
"Most of the incidents that happen, unfortunately, they happen in front of my store," said Sandrouni, who more than once has come to the aid of a yeshiva student bloodied after a run-in with a group of seminarians."Almost everybody, after the fight, they apologized," Sandrouni said. "They say, 'We are sorry. We didn't know that their reaction would be so strong.' "
Attacks on Christian clergyman in Jerusalem are not a new phenomenon, and may result from an extreme interpretation of the Bible's injunction to "abhor" idol worshipers.
But several people familiar with the issue say the attacks recently have reached epidemic proportions -- or at least enough that government officials and Orthodox rabbinic figures have begun to take notice.
A recent meeting between Foreign Ministry officials, the Jerusalem municipality and fervently Orthodox, or haredi, leaders resulted in a statement by Beth Din Tzedek, a haredi rabbinic tribunal, denouncing the phenomenon. In a sign of the ministry's concern over the issue, both the meeting and the statement were publicized on the Web site of Israel's diplomatic mission to the Vatican.
"Besides desecrating the Holy Name, which in itself represents a very grave sin, provoking gentiles is, according to our sages -- blessed be their holy and righteous memory -- forbidden and is liable to bring tragic consequences upon our own community, may God have mercy," said the statement.
The incident that appears to have gotten the ministry's attention occurred last September, when a pair of teenage Armenian seminarians reportedly fought with a young yeshiva student who spit on them. Police intervened, arrested the seminarians and referred the matter to the Interior Ministry.
According to George Hintlian, a spokesman for the Armenian community in Jerusalem, the seminarians are now facing deportation -- a decision the Armenians have officially protested. Carrying out the order would require the police to seize the boys from their seminary in the Old City, Hintlian said, which likely would result in a public relations disaster.
"It won't happen easily," Hintlian said. "They'll think twice."
Christian leaders stress that the problem is not one of Christian-Jewish relations in Israel. Most Israelis, they say, are peaceful and welcoming. In an interview with several Armenian Jerusalemites, they emphasized repeatedly that their relations with the largely religious community in the Old City's Jewish Quarter are normal.
The assaults, according to George Hintlian, a spokesman for the Armenian community in Jerusalem, are carried out by people from the outside -- visitors to Jerusalem from other towns, and even from abroad.
Though they may bear the brunt of the phenomenon, given the proximity of the Armenian and Jewish quarters, cases of spitting are confined neither to Armenian clergy nor the Old City.
Athanasius Macora, a Texas-born Franciscan friar who lives in western Jerusalem, frequently has been the target of spitting during his nearly two decades residing in the Israeli capital.
Macora, whose brown habit easily identifies him as a Christian clergyman, says that while he has not endured any spitting incidents recently, recollections of past incidents started flowing over the course of 30-minute interview.
In a sitting room at Terra Sancta College, where he is the superior, Macora recalled the blond-haired man who spit at him on Agron Street, not far from the U.S. Consulate. Another time, walking with an Armenian priest in the same area, a man in a car opened his window to let the spittle fly. Once it was a group of yeshiva students in the Old City, another time a young girl.
Five years ago, in what many say is the worst incident on record, a crucifix hanging from the neck of the Armenian archbishop, Nourhan Manougian, was broken in the course of an altercation with a yeshiva student who had spit on him.
Sometimes the assailants are clad in distinctive haredi garb; other times the attackers are wearing the knitted yarmulkes of the national religious camp. In almost all cases, though, they are young religious men.
A Franciscan church just outside the Old City walls was vandalized recently with anti-Christian graffiti, Macora said.
"I think it's just a small group of people who are hostile, and a very small group of people," Macora said. "If I go to offices or other places, a lot of people are very friendly."
Meanwhile, the Beth Din Tzedek statement, and an earlier one from Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger, have impressed the Christians and raised hopes that the spitting may soon end.
"We hope that this problem will be solved one day," Sandrouni said, "for the sake of mutual coexistence."
Ultra-Orthodox young men curse and spit at Christian clergymen in the streets of Jerusalem's Old City as a matter of routine. In most cases the clergymen ignore the attacks, but sometimes they strike back. Last week the Jerusalem Magistrate's Court quashed the indictment against an Armenian priesthood student who had punched the man who spat at him.
Johannes Martarsian was walking in the Old City in May 2008 when an young ultra-Orthodox Jew spat at him. Maratersian punched the spitter in the face, making him bleed, and was charged for assault. But Judge Dov Pollock, who unexpectedly annulled the indictment, wrote in his verdict that "putting the defendant on trial for a single blow at a man who spat at his face, after suffering the degradation of being spat on for years while walking around in his church robes is a fundamental contravention of the principles of justice and decency."
By Amiram Barkat
A few weeks ago, a senior Greek Orthodox clergyman in Israel attended a meeting at a government office in Jerusalem's Givat Shaul quarter. When he returned to his car, an elderly man wearing a skullcap came and knocked on the window. When the clergyman let the window down, the passerby spat in his face.
The clergyman prefered not to lodge a complaint with the police and told an acquaintance that he was used to being spat at by Jews. Many Jerusalem clergy have been subjected to abuse of this kind. For the most part, they ignore it but sometimes they cannot.
On Sunday, a fracas developed when a yeshiva student spat at the cross being carried by the Armenian Archbishop during a procession near the Holy Sepulchre in the Old City. The archbishop's 17th-century cross was broken during the brawl and he slapped the yeshiva student.
Both were questioned by police and the yeshiva student will be brought to trial. The Jerusalem District Court has meanwhile banned the student from approaching the Old City for 75 days.
But the Armenians are far from satisfied by the police action and say this sort of thing has been going on for years. Archbishop Nourhan Manougian says he expects the education minister to say something.
"When there is an attack against Jews anywhere in the world, the Israeli government is incensed, so why when our religion and pride are hurt, don't they take harsher measures?" he asks.
According to Daniel Rossing, former adviser to the Religious Affairs Ministry on Christian affairs and director of a Jerusalem center for Christian-Jewish dialogue, there has been an increase in the number of such incidents recently, "as part of a general atmosphere of lack of tolerance in the country."
Rossing says there are certain common characeristics from the point of view of time and location to the incidents. He points to the fact that there are more incidents in areas where Jews and Christians mingle, such as the Jewish and Armenian quarters of the Old City and the Jaffa Gate.
There are an increased number at certain times of year, such as during the Purim holiday."I know Christians who lock themselves indoors during the entire Purim holiday," he says.
Former adviser to the mayor on Christian affairs, Shmuel Evyatar, describes the situation as "a huge disgrace." He says most of the instigators are yeshiva students studying in the Old City who view the Christian religion with disdain.
"I'm sure the phenomenon would end as soon as rabbis and well-known educators denounce it. In practice, rabbis of yeshivas ignore or even encourage it," he says.
Evyatar says he himself was spat at while walking with a Serbian bishop in the Jewish quarter, near his home. "A group of yeshiva students spat at us and their teacher just stood by and watched."
Jerusalem municipal officials said they are aware of the problem but it has to be dealt with by the police. Shmuel Ben-Ruby, the police spokesman, said they had only two complaints from Christians in the past two years. He said that, in both cases, the culprits were caught and punished.
He said the police deploy an inordinately high number of patrols and special technology in the Old City and its surroundings in an attempt to keep order.