Photo Credit: Powerhouse64 via Wikimedia
Church of the fully intact church as seen through the burnt roof of the damaged auxiliary building.

Yinon Reuveni, 22, was sentenced to four years in prison on Tuesday, just before Israeli Jews lit the first candle in their Hanukkah menorahs, for setting fire to a building adjacent to the Church of the Loaves and Fish (Church of the Multiplication) on the northwest shore of Lake Kinneret in June 2015. The verse “and false idols will be cut off” – from the “Aleinu” prayer – was sprayed on the walls of the dormitory in the church compound.

It is fitting, perhaps, that the fire connected with the arson of a church in Israel is belabored just ahead of the national Jewish celebration of the Maccabean Revolt against the Syrian occupiers and their Helenized Jewish collaborators (167 – 160 BCE)

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The media coverage at the time the arson had taken place largely distorted the fact that the main church building—the most prominent in terms of its artistic value, had, in fact, remained unharmed. A false AP report in February 2017, which was copied by every conceivable media outlet on Earth, suggested that the church itself had been closed for nearly two years as a result for the arson attack, whereas the church had remained open that entire time.

Judge George Azoulay of the Nazareth District Court ruled for the sentence to be counted from the day of Reuveni’s arrest, in late July 2015. In addition the judge sentenced the accused to two years’ probation and a compensation payment to the church of $14,125.

Yehuda Asraf, 21, who was charged with helping Reuveni carry out the arson, was cleared of all the charges against him. The indictment against the two said that Reuveni had been documented by security cameras at the Latrun gas station outside Jerusalem, filling up a two-quart bottle with gasoline. The indictment also accused Reuveni and Asrf of equipping themselves with gloves, matches and a lighter before driving north to the church compound.

Reuveni’s attorney, Itamar Ben Gvir, said he was planning to appeal his client’s sentence all the way to the Supreme Court, claiming that the indictment and Tuesday’s court ruling were rife with errors. At the same time he praised the judge for not following the prosecution’s “racist demand” for a nine-year sentence.

The full segment of the Siddur prayer “Aleinu L’shabe’ach” (We must praise) is extremely fitting for the holiday of Hanukkah, when the Jews of Israel repelled the Idol worshippers from our Temple:

“Therefore we put our hope in You, our God, to soon see the glory of Your strength, to remove all the idols from the Earth, and to completely cut off all false gods; to repair the world, Your holy empire. And for all living flesh to call Your name, and for all the wicked of the Earth to turn to You. May all the world’s inhabitants recognize and know that to You every knee must bend and every tongue must swear loyalty before You, our God…”

A joyous Hanukkah!

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