JERUSALEM (Combined Sources)–An altercation that started when a yeshiva student spat at the cross being carried by Armenian Archbishop in Israel Nourhan Manougian during a procession near the Holy Sepulcher on Sunday–has exposed growing tensions between traditional Christian denominations and religious Jews in Jerusalem’s Old City.
The student–Zvi Rosenthal–not only spat at the cross but also at Manougian himself; Manougian reacted by slapping the yeshiva student.
The incident developed into a brawl during which Manougian’s ceremonial medallion–which has been used by Armenian archbishops since the 17th century–broke.
Both Archbishop Manougian and the yeshiva student were detained for questioning.
Police are now considering whether to initiate criminal proceedings against the Armenian archbishop and to charge him with assault. Meanwhile–the incident has sparked much anger among the clergy of the small Armenian community in Jerusalem.
Religious Jews–among them yeshiva students–customarily spit on the ground as a sign of disgust on seeing the cross. The Armenia’s–who live adjacent to the Jewish Quarter of the Old City–suffer from this phenomenon more than any of the other Christian sects in the Old City.
Manougian says he and his colleagues have already learned to live with it. "I no longer get worked up by people who turn around and spit when I pass them by in the street; but to approach in the middle of a religious procession and to spit on the cross in front of all the priests of the sect is humiliation that we are not prepared to accept," he notes.
A policeman is customarily posted to guard the Armenia’s’ religious processions–but doesn’t generally do anything to prevent the spitting. The Armenia’s took the matter up with Interior Minister Avraham Poraz some seven months ago–but nothing has been done about until now.
"The Israeli government is anti-Christian," Manougian charges. "It cries out in the face of any harm done to Jews all over the world–but is simply not interested at all when we are humiliated on an almost daily basis."
"Incidents like these aim at ridding Jerusalem of its Christian and Muslim populations in order to emphasize the city’s Jewish character," emphasized Catholicos of the Holy See of Cilicia Aram I.
Lawmaker Rabbi Michael Melchior (Labor Party) says the phenomenon should be tackled through educational means. "I would expect prominent figures among the religious and ultra-Orthodox sectors–such as the chief rabbis–to denounce this phenomenon," he says.
Yassir Arafat–leader of the Palestinian National Authority–condemned the Israeli attack on Archbishop Manougian. Arafat held a telephone conversation with the Archbishop inquiring about his health following the unwarranted assault.