It is unthinkable to any decent human being to desecrate the final resting place of an other person, yet that is what a group of young people did in broad daylight in Belfast on Friday.
However, 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.
Ulster has a long, and it has to be said, proud association with the Jewish community. One of Belfast’s outstanding Lord Mayors, Sir Otto Jaffe, came from that community, as did Chaim Herzog, who went on to become the sixth President of Israel. Gustav Wolff, of what was once one of the greatest shipyards in the world, Harland & Wolff, was Jewish.
These are people who brought great acclaim to the province, or more specifically, Belfast. They helped make it an industrial powerhouse. Those who attacked the graves of their peers, descendants and fellow citizens have brought nothing but shame on the city, branding it the home of bigots.
Why would Jewish graves be singled out in a west Belfast cemetery?
We will not know the definitive answer until the perpetrators are caught and explain themselves, but there has been a concerted anti-Israeli campaign in that part of the city for many years as republicans have sided with Palestine against Israel in the seemingly unending Middle East conflict.
Perhaps these youths have seen that political expression as an excuse for something more hateful, using hammers and blocks to demonstrate their anti-Israeli feelings, since they obviously don’t have the vocabulary to do it otherwise.
We couldn’t expect them to know that Chaim Herzog’s father was known as the “Sinn Fein Rabbi”, because of his support for the republican cause during the Irish War of Independence. But then that would not tie in with Sinn Fein’s narrative on the Middle East of today.
The people of west Belfast must know who carried out this hate crime, and they need to give that information to the PSNI.