In a shocking incident on Friday, October 6th, an American tourist was arrested at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem after causing irreparable damage to two second-century Roman statues, sparking a wave of concern and alarm about the safety of Israel’s invaluable collections and the rising attacks on cultural heritage in Jerusalem.
The 40-year-old tourist, whose identity has been withheld due to a gag order, reportedly hurled the artworks to the floor, defacing the ancient statues. Israeli police identified the suspect as a radical Jewish American tourist, stating that initial questioning suggested he smashed the statues because he deemed them “idolatrous and contrary to the Torah.” However, the man’s lawyer, Nick Kaufman, refuted this, attributing the act to a mental disorder known as the Jerusalem syndrome, a form of disorientation believed to be induced by the city’s religious magnetism, causing foreign pilgrims to believe they are biblical figures.
The Israel Museum, renowned for its exhibits of archaeology, fine arts, and Jewish art and life, described the vandalism as a “troubling and unusual event.” Museum photos revealed the marble head of the goddess Athena knocked off its pedestal and a statue of a pagan deity shattered into fragments. The damaged statues are currently being restored by museum staff, who have not disclosed the value of the statues or the cost of the destruction.
Eli Escusido, director of the Israel Antiquities Authority, expressed his shock and concern, stating, “This is a shocking case of the destruction of cultural values. We see with concern the fact that cultural values are being destroyed by religiously motivated extremists.” The incident has also alarmed the Israeli government, attributing the defacement to Jewish iconoclasm in obedience to early prohibitions against idolatry.
This incident appears to be the latest in a series of attacks by Jews against historical objects in Jerusalem. Earlier this year, a Jewish American tourist damaged a statue of Jesus at a Christian pilgrimage site in the Old City, and Jewish teenagers defaced historical Christian tombstones at a prominent Jerusalem cemetery.
Despite the unsettling event, the museum opened its doors to the public at the regularly scheduled time, about 16 hours after the defacement. The incident has stirred discussions about the safety and security of cultural and historical artifacts, especially in a city that is a melting pot of diverse religious and cultural beliefs.