A gang of up to eight youths used hammers to smash or topple more than a dozen gravestones in the Jewish cemetery of Belfast, Northern Ireland, last Friday in what appeared to be a targeted and premeditated attack. Some reports say the youths were egged on by a larger crowd, and police are treating it as a hate crime.
An editorial in the Belfast Telegraph on Monday said the attack “shames the city.”
this was no mindless act of vandalism, but an apparently targeted and premeditated crime. The eight or so youths involved, armed with hammers, climbed a wall that surrounds the Jewish sector of Belfast City Cemetery in west Belfast.
There they proceeded to smash headstones and, even more unforgivably, attempted to gain entry to the graves.
This had all the hallmarks of a hate crime and is an obvious expression of anti-Semitism. Like most similar crimes, any rationale that may have provoked the youths to carry it out has no basis in reality.
William Humphrey from the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) said he was “disgusted and appalled,” the BBC reported. “I understand that council staff reported that eight youths, supported by a larger crowd, caused the damage, using hammers and blocks,” he said.
Roman Catholic Bishop Noel Treanor called the attack “shameful” and “a blemish on our society.”
The Belfast Telegraph said political figures and representatives of the tiny Belfast Jewish community were planning to organize a “show of solidarity” at the cemetery. (A Jewish community booklet estimated that the community only has about 80 members today.)
It quoted Jewish community chair Michael Black as saying, “I don’t know what was upsetting them, but apart from smashing the headstones they actually tried to get in to the actual graves to where the bodies are. I would be confident that they will catch some of them. The police are taking this very seriously.”
The Jewish section of the City Cemetery was founded in the early 1870s, with the first burial, that of a stillborn baby, in 1873, the last burial in 1964. Some 296 people are interred there. The site has been subject to other instances of vandalism over the years.
See a video tour of the cemetery, before the attack: