Anti-Arab Graffiti Stuns Parishioners at Sts. Peter, Paul Church in Maryland
It was Jan. 13, a Tuesday evening, when parishioners at the Sts. Peter and Paul Antiochian Orthodox Church on River Road first noticed the graffiti. It was scrawled in blue spray paint on a back entryway to the church — according to officials there, a dimly lit area that would make it an easy target for vandals.
Written across the door was a Star of David and the words “Israel forever — Arabs never.”
The incident has shocked congregants at the Potomac church, which draws many parishioners who are of Middle Eastern descent. While the services are conducted in English, much of the chanting is in Greek or Arabic.
“I was stunned,” said Bethesda resident Joanne Demchok, a parishioner at the church. “Why would someone do something like that?”
According to the Rev. George Rados, a priest there, the incident was most likely tied to the recent conflict in Gaza. Israel launched an offensive into Gaza late last month, drawing widespread criticism from humanitarian groups, in response to rocket fire.
“These are all peaceful people,” Rados said, referring to his parishioners. Some, he noted, were of Palestinian descent. “I’m very disturbed that somebody would do this to my parish.”
Rados said he has brought the incident to the attention of his parishioners, though he has yet to remove the graffiti.
The church filed a police report Jan. 14, and the incident was classified as vandalism to a church. However, according to Dave Baker, hate crimes coordinator for county police, the incident should have also been classified as a hate crime because it involved property damage and was targeted at a religious group. The incident may have been classified incorrectly or the report may have yet to be forwarded to his office, Baker said.
Pro-Israeli, anti-Islamic graffiti was discovered on a noise barrier on Shady Grove Road Jan. 9, Baker said, also likely related to the Gaza conflict. High profile conflicts tend to fuel a small uptick in hate vandalism, Baker said.
According to the Washington-based American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, hate messages against Arab-Americans have been on the rise recently.
“We find a lot of times when there are conflicts going on that our office in particular and the Arab-American community in general is targeted a bit more,” said Laila Al-Qatami, communications director at the Washington-based American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee. Al-Qatami reported that her office has received an increased amount of hate messages in the last few weeks. “I’m not surprised, unfortunately, that the church was vandalized in light of what’s going on in Gaza.”
Hate vandalism is also increasingly targeted at the Jewish community, Baker said. Earlier this month, The Gazette reported that for the third year in a row, hate activity was incited more by religion than race. Baker said it has to do with an increase in the use of swastikas.
In August, a banner in support of Israel at the Kehilat Shalom synagogue in Montgomery Village was vandalized. Shortly afterward, signs at Congregation Tikvat Israel in Rockville were defaced with swastikas.
Michael Grossman, executive director of Congregation Tikvat Israel, condemned both the vandalism to his synagogue and the vandalism at Sts. Peter and Paul. “I would promote tolerance and open mindedness,” Grossman said. “The exchange of ideas should always come in place of taking one’s frustrations out on a house of worship.”