Abe Lubinsky, Danny Danon Mt of Olives map 390.
(photo credit: Melanie Lidman)
Just a few hours before Knesset members gathered at the Mount of Olives for the
20th yahrzeit [anniversary of the death] of former prime minister Menachem Begin
on Monday, American Jewish leaders urged the Knesset to improve security at the
ancient Jewish cemetery, which is regularly the target of grave desecration and
stone-throwing against worshippers.
“The history of Har Hazeitim [the
Mount of Olives] is the history of the Jewish people,” said Malcolm Hoenlein,
executive vice president of the Conference of Presidents of Major American
Jewish Organizations. “If you want to keep Jerusalem united, you have to
keep Har Hazeitim.”
were installed and police officers stationed
everyday reality that if we go today
without a security
escort it is dangerous
and in that way the same Arab
rioters are achieving their goal
Along with members of the International Committee for
the Preservation of Har Hazeitim (ICPHH), Hoenlein and founders Abe and Menachem
Lubinsky advocated for closing parts of the road that runs through the cemetery,
to cut down on vandalism and grave desecration. Abe Lubinsky, a businessman from
New York, said the graves closest to the road are in “terrible shape” and many
have been smashed and destroyed.
The road is used by residents of Ras
el-Amud, the Arab neighborhood located next to the cemetery.
supporters also demanded police increase their presence at the rotary at the
entrance to Ras el-Amud, which is the site of frequent stonings by young Arab
residents, many of whom attend a nearby school.
MK Danny Danon (Likud),
the chairman of the Knesset Immigration, Absorption and Diaspora Affairs
Committee, said he would appeal to the Education Ministry and the Tourism
Ministry to make tours of the site a regular part of the public school
curriculum, in order to increase Jewish presence in the area. He echoed the call
to the Jerusalem municipality to close down parts of the cemetery road, a move
which could potentially create considerable tension in the area.
noted that while there is a phone number that visitors can call to request a
police escort, Jewish visitors should not need one at all.
is that today, if we go without guards, it’s dangerous,” he said at the opening
of the session. “They don’t want Jews to come here and they accomplish this
It is clear to us the current situation can’t
On Friday, Hoenlein visited the cemetery with US Congressmen
Eliot Engel (D-New York) and Jerrold Nadler (DNew York). A large rock was thrown
at the group as they examined some of the recent vandalism, though no one was
injured. The incident was referred to repeatedly as American Jewish leaders and
politicians decried the security situation at one of the world’s oldest Jewish
Sarit Goldstein, a spokeswoman for the Prime Minister’s
Office, which is responsible for the site, said that much of the issue stems
from total neglect of the site for decades.
Only in 2005, with the
implementation of a NIS 630 million plan to renovate parks in and around the Old
City – with approximately NIS 90 million allocated for the Mount of Olives – did
the site begin much-needed restoration and maintenance work.
said that there will eventually be 137 security cameras in the
Eighty of the cameras have already been installed.
month, police are expected to open a new police station with 25 officers inside
the cemetery. A police spokesman at the hearing said the police were undertaking
“advanced preparations” but refused to say when the station would be
But National Union MKs Ya’acov Katz and Michael Ben- Ari scoffed
at the efforts, saying it was a “shame and disgrace” to see the cemetery in such
a decrepit state, with Jews unable to visit regularly due to unsafe
“Until Jewish settlements are expanded in the Mount of
Olives, there will be no answer,” said Ben-Ari.
Abe Lubinsky urged Israel
to adopt stricter measures for those caught defacing graves and to take a lesson
from New York State, which punishes such offenders with four-year prison
sentences. He also stressed that if a Jewish cemetery was defaced in any other
country there would be a public outcry and widespread
“[The Mount of Olives] survived 3,000 years, including all
of the occupiers of Israel, but it’s having trouble surviving modern day
Israel,” he said.