(JTA) – A historic church in northern Israel reopened nearly two years after an arson and vandalism attack allegedly by extremist Jews.
The Church of the Multiplication of the Loaves and Fishes, where Christians believe Jesus miraculously fed thousands of people, reopened Sunday after eight months of repairs and renovations costing about $1 million US. The government of Israel reportedly contributed some $400,000 to the rebuilding.
Three youths from the West Bank who were hiking in the area were indicted in the June 2015 attack. They were among 16 originally arrested in connection with the nationalistic attack.
President Reuven Rivlin of Israel and his wife, Nechama, attended an interfaith meeting at the church to mark its reopening. Also participating in the meeting was the ambassador of Germany.
“The last time I was here, we stood together and looked at the burnt walls and the terrible graffiti,” Rivlin said at the start of the meeting. “Today I visit here again and see the renewal of this historic, special and holy place. I want to thank all the people who worked hard to restore this place, and to say clearly that hate cannot win.
“The State of Israel is committed – deeply committed – to the freedom of religion and of worship for all religions and believers.”
Along with the fire that struck the church, located on the northwest shore of the Sea of Galilee, graffiti reading “False idols will be smashed” and “pagans” were found on its walls. The site is where Jesus is believed to have fed thousands of people with five loaves of bread and two fish.
Built on the site of a fifth century church, the church contains restored mosaic floors from the time period. The attack was roundly condemned in Israel and around the world.