A priest cleans the scene after a wooden statue of Jesus was pulled down and damaged in the Church of the Condemnation, where Christians believe Jesus was flogged and sentenced to death, in Jerusalem's Old City on February 2, 2023. Image Credit: AFP

JERUSALEM: Israeli police on Thursday arrested an American tourist after he allegedly knocked down and broke a statue of Jesus in a church in Jerusalem’s Old City.

Images on social media showed the statue laying horizontally on the floor after apparently being pulled down from a stand at the church. The incident occurred in the Church of the Flagellation, which is located on the Via Dolorosa, the route believed to have been walked by Jesus to his crucifixion.

Police said they made the arrest with the assistance of a church security guard. Video on social media showed a man sitting atop the alleged vandal who is heard saying “you can’t have idols in Jerusalem, this is the holy city.”

Police said the man’s mental health was being assessed. The American Embassy declined to comment.

The incident came as tensions run high in Jerusalem and the region following a bloody week. An Israeli military raid in the West Bank killed 10 Palestinians, mostly militants but also a 61-year-old woman. A Palestinian shooting attack outside a synagogue in east Jerusalem killed seven people, including a 14-year-old.

The unrest comes in the first weeks of Israel’s new, far-right government, some of whose ultranationalist, religious members have used inflammatory, anti-Arab rhetoric.

In a statement, the Custodia Terrae Sanctae, the Catholic Church’s custodians of holy sites in the Holy Land, said “this hate crime joins a list of attacks all of which targeted the Christian community in Israel in the past month.”

“It is not a coincidence that the violent dialogue in Israeli society is translated also into these grave acts,” it said, calling on Israeli law enforcement to take action to halt such incidents.

Father Nikodemus Schnabel of the Dormition Abbey just outside the Old City linked the incident to the government’s character.

“Welcome to the new Christian-hating Israel, encouraged and supported by the current government!” he tweeted.

Police said they view damage to religious institutions as serious.