Wednesday, 11. January 2023

Protestant Mount Zion Cemetery in Jerusalem Desecrated

For interfaith dialogue, against religious fanaticism 


At the beginning of January, 30 tombstones in the historical Protestant cemetery in Jerusalem were desecrated. One of them was the tombstone of the founder of the Schneller Schools, Johann Ludwig Schneller. The EMS and the Schneller Association are campaigning for the tombstone to be restored.   

Security camera footage shows two young men wearing Jewish headdresses entering the Mount Zion Cemetery on New Year's Day. They knock down tombstones and damage graves. The Evangelical Mission in Solidarity (EMS) and the Evangelical Association for the Schneller Schools (EVS) strongly condemn this vandalisation and stand in solidarity with their local Christian brothers and sisters. "We join the appeal of Archbishop Dr Hosam Naoum, head of the Anglican member church of the EMS, and hope that the authorities will resolutely pursue and prosecute the offenders. At the same time, we are delighted that a large Jewish solidarity rally recently took place," says EMS General Secretary Dr Dieter Heidtmann. The many crosses destroyed indicate that religious fanaticism and hatred against Christians were the motivating factors behind the criminal acts. A 14-year-old and an 18-year-old suspect have since been arrested by the Israeli police and taken into custody. 

The Mount Zion cemetery was built as early as the mid-19th century. One of the destroyed monuments is the tombstone of Johann Ludwig Schneller (1820-1890) and his wife Magdalene (1821-1902). The German émigré founded the Syrian Orphanage in 1860 to put into practice his idea of education for peace and interfaith dialogue in the Middle East. He gave orphans and children from poor families a home regardless of their religion and provided them with schooling and vocational training.  

A marble relief on the tomb of Samuel Gobat, the second Protestant bishop in Jerusalem (tenure 1846-1879), was also damaged. Schneller began his ministry in Jerusalem under Bishop Gobat, who himself founded several schools in the Holy Land. The cemetery, which is owned by the Anglican Church, is used by the Episcopal Church in Jerusalem and the Middle East together with the Evangelical Congregation of the German Language in Jerusalem. 

"There have already been numerous incidents of hate crimes against Christians and their institutions in Israel in recent years. Nevertheless, this should not be about making a legal example of misguided young people. Instead, we should target the Talmud schools with extreme political views where these young people are educated," explains Dr Uwe Gräbe, EVS Executive Secretary and EMS Liaison Secretary for the Middle East. The last time that Orthodox Talmud students vandalised several crosses and damaged the Schneller grave at the Mount Zion Cemetery was in 2013. "This time, not only was the cross knocked off, but the entire top stone slab of the grave was thrown onto a nearby grave. I am glad that the EMS together with the Schneller association is dealing with the repairs," said Gräbe.   

The EMS and EVS have been promoting interfaith dialogue and reconciliation for many years. In addition to the Schneller schools in Lebanon and Jordan, it offers interfaith study programmes in the Middle East at the Near East School of Theology (NEST).