Anti-Christian graffiti incidents in Jerusalem leading up to Pope's visit

A view of Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives. Pope Francis is due to visit later this monthPhoto courtesy of Wesley WJ Richards

Incidents of anti-Christian graffiti and threats have been on the rise as the visit from Pope Francis later this month approaches.

Last Friday, graffiti declaring that "King David is for the Jews, Jesus is garbage" was found opposite a church in Jerusalem.

Four days before that, "Death to Arabs, Christians and all those who hate Israel" was found spray painted in Hebrew on an external pillar of Office of the Assembly of Bishops at Jerusalem's Notre Dame Centre.

The office is a property of the Holy See, and is due to be the site of the visit between Pope Francis and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The graffiti was topped with a Star of David.

These attacks, and others like them, have been referred to as 'price tags' by nationalist Jews who characterise them as the 'price' for any curbing of Israeli settlement on occupied Palestinian territory.

Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, Fouad Twal was quoted in Reuters saying: "There has been a marked increase of 'price tag' provocations within Israel.

"This wave of extremist actions of terror are surely of grave concern to all reasonable persons."

Patriarch Twal spoke of the affect that these acts will have on the Pope's visit, suggesting "the unrestrained acts of vandalism poison the atmosphere".

Other areas suffering from these kinds of 'price tag' attacks include Arab villages in Israel and Israeli military installations in the West Bank.

While there have been many messages of support from groups from other religious traditions.

Bishop Giacinto-Boulos Marcuzzo, Patriarchal Vicar for Israel, joked on the Latin Patriarch's website: "I was literally a 'prisoner', along with my collaborators, in the living room at the Patriarchal Vicariate in Nazareth where there were continuous visits by individuals and groups of various religions: Muslims, Druze, Christians of all denominations, Jewish academic circles and dialogue associations."

However, many do not feel that they have received sufficient protection from the Israeli state.

"We feel neither safe nor protected," said Bishop Marcuzzo.

A recent US report looking at the price tagging phenomenon documents more than 400 cases, the vast majority of which have not resulted in prosecutions.

Israeli police report that they have very little information to go on, and very few suspects to trace. Of those who have been arrested, half of them are minors to whom judges often hand out lenient sentences.

Patriarch Twal welcomed Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon and Justice Minister Tzipi Livni's pledge to crack down on price tag attackers, but also said that until the pledges "become acts, we remain sceptical."

Expressing dismay at police situation, Patrarich Twal said: "How can it be that they don't catch the perpetrators?"

Despite these problems, the Latin Patriarch does not feel that the Pope will be in danger on his visit to the Holy Land: "No, no we are not afraid for the safety of the pope... The people are very happy to receive him, I'm sure."

The Pope's visit is scheduled for May 25 to 26 and no changes to the itinerary have been made.