An American citizen was arrested in Jerusalem on Thursday after allegedly entering a church and pulling a statue of Jesus down from its plinth, Israeli police said.
The incident took place inside the Church of the Flagellation, a Christian pilgrimage site on the city’s Via Dolorosa—the road along which Jesus is believed to have carried his cross to his place of crucifixion.
In images shared on social media, the damaged statue can be seen laying on its side after apparently being torn down from its plinth. On the floor next to the statue, a breathless man can be seen restraining the alleged vandal. “You can’t have idols in Jerusalem,” the suspect can be heard saying. “This is the holy city.”
The man can also be heard asking to be allowed to “put my kippah on”—referring to the traditional head covering worn by Jewish men—and apparently justifying his actions by making reference to “the Second Commandment, Exodus chapter 20.” The Second Commandment proscribes worshiping idols as though they were God.
In another video in which the alleged vandal appears to be surrounded by armed police, the man says: “If you’re going to film me that’s fine because we cannot have idols in Jerusalem. This is a very serious matter. We cannot worship stones of false gods in Jerusalem.”
In a statement, Israeli police said they made the arrest with the help of a security guard at the church, and that the suspect’s mental health is now being assessed, the Associated Press reports.
The attack is one of several recorded at Christian sites in Israel this year, with church officials raising concerns that anti-Christian sentiment has increased in lockstep with the rise of Israel’s new hard-right government. On Jan. 1, Israeli youths desecrated a Christian cemetery by smashing crosses and the headstones of over 30 graves.
Later in the month, a restaurant in Jerusalem’s Christian Quarter was attacked with video footage appearing to show tables and chairs being thrown. In December, the patriarchs and heads of churches in Jerusalem released a joint statement expressing alarm that Christians “have become the target of frequent and sustained attacks by fringe radical groups.”
Father Nikodemus Schnabel of the Dormition Abbey located near Jerusalem’s Old City framed Thursday’s attack as being consistent with the views of Israel’s new leadership. “Welcome to the new Christian-hating Israel, encouraged and supported by the current government!” Schnabel tweeted.
The apparent anti-Christian attack comes amid a rising tide of bloodshed in the occupied West Bank and Isreal. Israeli soldiers allegedly killed ten people including an elderly woman during a raid in a refugee camp last Thursday. A day later, a Palestinian gunman shot seven Israelis dead as they left a synagogue in East Jerusalem.