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Jewish Extremist Sentenced to Four Years in Prison for Arson Attack on 4th Century 'Jesus Miracle Church'

( [email protected] ) Dec 13, 2017 01:16 PM EST
A Jewish extremist was sentenced to four years in prison for a 2015 arson attack that damaged a church in northern Israel where Christians believe Jesus performed the miracle of the loaves and fishes.
A cleric inspects the damage caused to the complex of the Church of Loaves and Fishes on June 18, 2015. Reuters

A Jewish extremist was sentenced to four years in prison for a 2015 arson attack that damaged a church in northern Israel where Christians believe Jesus performed the miracle of the loaves and fishes.

The Israeli district court in the Galilee city of Nazareth had earlier found Yinon Reuveni, 23, guilty of "aggravated arson" and two counts of criminal conspiracy for the June 2015 attack carried out on the Church of the Multiplication of the Loaves and Fish at Tabgha, according to The Times of Israel.

This week, he was sentenced to four years in prison and hit with a fine of 50,000 shekels ($14,000).

Speaking with The Times of Israel following the ruling, Reuveni's attorney, Itamar Ben Gvir, said his client intended to appeal.

"Arabs who set a synagogue on fire received two years in prison," he said, referring to a sentence handed down to arsonists responsible for an April 2014 attack on a synagogue in the French Hill neighborhood of Jerusalem.

"In contrast with those who think this is a light sentence, this is an especially unreasonable punishment for a young man without a criminal record, who has recently married and has suffered from continuous harassment by the Israel Prison Service and the Shin Bet during his detention," Ben Gvir added.

The 4th century church marks the spot where Jesus performed the miracle of feeding the five thousand, as recorded in the New Testament book of Mark.

The arson attack reportedly caused damages of around $1.5 million, of which the State of Israel contributed almost $400,000. In addition to torching the building, Reuveni reportedly scrawled "Idols will be cast out or destroyed" in Hebrew on the walls.

The indictment against Reuveni says he set fire to the church due to his hostility towards Christianity, according to the BBC. Local media reported he was connected to a number of other hate crimes, including the February 2015 arson attack at Jerusalem's Dormition Abbey, and had linked up with other extremists before attacking the church.

Reuveni was driven by the ideology held by the so-called "Hilltop Youth," a loosely organized group of ultra-nationalists known for establishing illegal outposts in Judea and Samaria, according to the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency). It added that Reuveni followed an "extremist ideology" that believes that "only someone who fights Christianity...can call himself a Jew."

The church, one of the most popular stops for Christian pilgrims visiting the Holy Land, reopened in February of this year following eight months of renovation. The arson stirred widespread condemnation in Israel, and also solidarity protests by non-Christian Israelis.

"This outrageous arson attack against the church is an attack on all of us," Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu said at the time.

Tags : arson, arson attack, Church of the Multiplication of the Loaves and Fish at Tabgha, Jesus, Miracle, Jewish extremist