An arson attack on the church complex at the site of Christ’s multiplication of loaves and fish on the Sea of Galilee has resulted in prison time for the perpetrator.
Yinon Reuveni, 23, was sentenced to four years in prison and fined 50,000 shekels ($14,200) Dec. 12, Agence France Presse reports. He had been convicted in July of aggravated arson and two counts of criminal conspiracy.
He is from Baladim, an illegal Israeli outpost in the West Bank near Kokhav HaShahar. He is reported to be a Jewish extremist. Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported that when he was indicted for the attack, his charge sheet stated that “Reuveni has extremist views. He sees Christians as idol worshippers and their destruction as a mitzvah.”
Reuveni’s lawyer contended that the sentence was too harsh and he planned to appeal.
The arsonist started a fire at the Church of the Multiplication in Tabgha, located 120 miles north of Jerusalem, on June 18, 2015. The church is built on the site where Christ fed the 5,000 through the multiplication of loaves and fishes. It is joined to a Benedictine monastery. As a result of the arson, a monk and a staff member were hospitalized and treated for smoke inhalation.
Two rooms were badly damaged. The fire did extensive damage to the monastery, the church entrance, an office for pilgrims, and a book storage room. The church was closed until February; with fire damage was estimated at $1 million. The Israeli government contributed almost $400,000 for repairs.
Hebrew-language graffiti at the site read “all idols will be smashed”. According to The Times of Israel, the graffiti is a quote from the “Aleinu” prayer, which is prayed three times each day in Jewish services.
At the time of the attack, Catholic leaders and the Israeli president and prime minister condemned the incident.
Fr. Peter Vasko, OFM, president of the Franciscan Foundation for the Holy Land, said: “Hundreds of thousands of pilgrims have visited here, have prayed here, have had Mass at this Holy Site. In many ways it was a haven of peace and tranquility which has now been disfigured by misguided zealots who have no respect for the religious beliefs of others.”
Various Jewish extremists have engaged in vandalism and assaults against Palestinian and Arab Israelis and Christian and Muslim sites.
The Church of the Multiplication had been vandalized in April the same year, when Jewish extremists destroyed crosses in the monastery’s outdoor prayer area, and threw stones at worshippers.
The present Church of the Multiplication was built in the 20th century, though a church was built on the site by at least the mid-fourth century. The present church includes mosaic floors from the fifth century, which were not destroyed in the arson.
The Benedictine monastery attached to the church was founded in the 20th century. The current building was opened in 2012, including a private oratory for the monks which was financed with support from the pastoral charity Aid to the Church in Need.