Jerusalem priests report constant spitting attacks by ultra-Orthodox

Armenian priests lead a service in Jerusalem's Church of the Holy Sepulcher commemorating the 1915 genocide. (Flash 90)

JERUSALEM (JWN and agencies)—Priests and priesthood students of the Armenian Church have complained of increasing incidents of being spat at and cursed by ultra-Orthodox youth and adults in the streets of Jerusalem’s Old City.

Unexpectedly, the most notable arrest in the multiple cases of harassment was of a priesthood student who punched the man who spat at him.

Last week the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court threw out the indictment against student Johannes Martarsian, who lost his cool and gave his assailant a bloody nose in May 2008.

Judge Dov Pollock wrote in his decision that “putting the defendant on trial for a single blow at a man who spat at his face, after suffering the degradation of being spat on for years while walking around in his church robes is a fundamental contravention of the principles of justice and decency. Needless to say, spitting toward the defendant when he was wearing the robe is a criminal offense.”

Armenian clergy in Jerusalem have complained of harassment, from senior cardinals to priesthood students. When they can no longer ignore an attack and complain, the police does not usually find the perpetrator, despite the fact that the Old City is saturated with security cameras.

The Greek Patriarchate’s clergymen have also been cursed and spat on by ultra-Orthodox men in the street for many years. “They walk past me and spit,” Father Gabriel Bador, 78, a senior priest in the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate, told Haaretz. “Mostly I ignore it, but it’s difficult.”

Father Goosan Aljanian, Chief Dragoman of the Armenian Patriarchate in Jerusalem, says it is often difficult for temperamental young priesthood students to turn the other cheek after being spat upon one side.

“I tell my students that if they are spat at, to go to the police rather than strike back” says Aljanian, “but these are young kids who sometimes lose their cool.”

A few weeks ago four ultra-Orthodox men spat at clergymen in the funeral procession of Father Alberto of the Armenian Church. “They came in a pack, out of nowhere,” Aljanian told Haaretz. “I know there are fanatical Haredi groups that don’t represent the general public, but it’s still enraging. It all begins with education. It’s the responsibility of these men’s yeshiva heads to teach them not to behave this way.”