Trappist Monastery Near Jerusalem Vandalized

JERUSALEM (CNS) — Vandals burned the door of a Trappist monastery outside Jerusalem and spray- painted a wall with the names of illegal Israeli outposts, one of which had been evacuated two days earlier.

In addition to the names of the outposts — Jewish enclaves not approved by the Israeli government — the vandals scrawled slogans against Christianity including “Jesus is a monkey” on the walls on the Latrun monastery, best known for its contemplative monks and wine-making. The monastery, about 20 miles west of Jerusalem, sits on a hill overlooking the road linking Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.

Trappist Father Louis Wehbee, who is responsible for the formation of novices at the monastery, said a monk heard a noise outside early Sept. 4 and went to investigate. He found the wooden door in flames and alerted the other monks. He was able to put out the flames with a fire extinguisher.

“We were very surprised and can’t understand why this has happened,” Father Wehbee told Catholic News Service in a phone interview. “Never in our 122- year history here has something like this happened to us. We are opened to all people, we have good relations with everybody. What makes us sad is the graffiti which they wrote against our faith. If there are political tensions, why are they taking it out against our religion?”

A day earlier, Israel authorities had evacuated residents from an unauthorized Jewish enclave in Migron, West Bank. Migron was one of the names spray painted on the wall.

Police said they had been preparing for such a so- called “price tag” attack against a Palestinian or Muslim target, which has been the recent modus operandi of a group of extremists following an outpost evacuation or other government action that they oppose.

Acting Jerusalem District Police Commander Meni Yitzhaki, who visited the monastery Sept. 4, said he had appointed a special investigator to look into the incident.

Father Wehbee said monastery residents trusted the authorities would do their best to catch the culprits, although they have yet to catch those who carried out a similar attack on a Greek Orthodox monastery in Jerusalem last February.

“We do not want revenge,” he said. “We hope the criminals will be punished in a way which will educate them and not just put them in jail until they get out to do this again. We want the person to change.”

The Interreligious Coordinating Council in Israel and the Jerusalem Center for Jewish Christian Relations denounced the attack, calling it “a desecration of the name of God.” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the attack was “reprehensible” and those responsible needed to be “punished severely.”

The monastery is a tourist destination for many Israelis and others who enjoy the monastery’s guesthouse, wine shop and grounds.

“These were a minority of extremists,” said Father Wehbee. “Most Israelis are good people, but they are not powerful. The minority have the strength.”

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