10 31 2014
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JERUSALEM (CNN) -- The entrance door to a century-old monastery near Jerusalem was burned away and anti-Christian graffiti was sprayed on the walls Tuesday, in what Israeli police said appeared to be a nationalistic attack.

The phrase "Jesus is a monkey" was painted on the walls of Latrun Monastery in large orange letters, as well as the words "Migron" and "Maoz Esther," referring to two illegal Israeli settler outposts in the West Bank.



Families were evacuated from the outposts over the weekend by Israeli government forces.

The Rev. Louis Wahbeh, of the 19th century monastery, told CNN that he was shocked that anyone would plan and carry out such an attack.

"This is a direct insult to our belief," he said. "We can't understand how such people can get to this low level of not respecting others, have no ethical background and don't have any human values."

He described the incident as a "price tag" attack, a term used to describe acts of vandalism by radical Israeli settlers exacting a "price" against Palestinian targets or Israeli security forces in response to actions by the Israeli government.

Such attacks have often targeted Palestinian mosques and property.

While the majority of Arab Israelis are Muslim, there are also Palestinian Christians living in the West Bank, Gaza, and Israel.

Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld told CNN the attack on Latrun Monastery was a "criminal incident with a nationalistic motives."

A special investigation team has been assigned to try to identify the suspects, who fled the scene, and forensic tests are being carried out, he said.

"We are obviously looking into the possibility that extremists were involved," he said.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu condemned the vandalism.

"Those responsible for this reprehensible act need to be punished severely," he said. "Freedom of religion and freedom of worship are among the most basic foundations of the state of Israel."

Israeli extremists have previously retaliated against both Islamic and Christian sites when they were forcibly evacuated from illegal West Bank outposts or settlements.

In February, a Greek Orthodox monastery in Jerusalem was similarly targeted when Israeli extremists wrote "Death to the Christians" on the walls and slashed the tires of churchgoers' vehicles.

Many mosques in the West Bank have also been set on fire in recent years and racist graffiti sprayed on the walls, including the words "price tag" and "Mohammad is a pig."

The Palestinian Authority, which governs the West Bank, denounced Tuesday's incident and called on the Israeli government to bring those responsible to justice.

"The Israeli government must take responsibility for the continuous settler violence towards religious sites. Several mosques have been attacked in recent months, but little or no action taken," it said in a written statement. "Extremist Israeli government policies -- marred with bigotry -- encourage settler hate crimes against Palestinians and their places of worship."

The incident comes against a backdrop of concern over racism toward Arabs in Israel, in the wake of two violent attacks against Palestinians last month, one in Jerusalem and the other on the West Bank. Teenagers are suspected in both cases.

Latrun Monastery was built overlooking the Ayalon Valley by French Trappist monks. It is a destination for Christian pilgrims from overseas, as well as a place of worship for Palestinian Christians.

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