Last week extremist Israeli settlers painted in Hebrew "Price tag, King David is for the Jews, Jesus is garbage," on the walls of St. George's Romanian Orthodox Church in Jerusalem.
This kind of graffiti has been appearing on Palestinian homes, mosques, churches since 2008. It's part of a deliberate and organized effort by extremist settlers to exact a price from the Palestinian population every time the government of Israel moves against illegal settlements in the Palestinian territories.
The price tags often go well beyond graffiti. Revenge vandalism has included smashing car windshields, slashing tires, arson attacks on mosques, throwing rocks at Palestinian villagers and the destruction of thousands of Palestinian-owned olive trees.
There's been an intensification of price tag attacks since April 2, when the Israeli Defence Forces demolished a couple of outposts of the Yitzhar settlement deep in Palestinian territory, near Nablus.
When Patriarch Fouad Twal complains that Israeli authorities have done little to curb the attacks he's not being entirely fair. There is a special Israeli police unit that works on nationalist crimes. Over the last month the unit has opened 78 new files, arrested 102 suspects and served 37 indictments, according to Israeli press reports. And the wheels of justice always turn too slowly for victims, even in Canada.
On the other hand, Palestinians including the Patriarch, are understandably suspicious of Israeli intentions when it comes to the settlements. The distinction between legal and illegal settlements is a cruel fiction as far as Palestinians are concerned given that every settlement built on land captured in the 1967 war violates the Geneva convention on military occupations, which forbids the transfer of populations into the occupied area.
What does all this have to do with the Pope's visit? Palestinians believe the world mostly ignores them. We shrug our collective shoulders at their misery, unable to imagine an alternative or act to improve the situation. So, with the international press beginning to filter in and the world's attention fixed on what the Pope will or won't say about the Israeli security wall, the Patriarch is seizing the opportunity to draw our attention to the occupation.