Hoenlein appeals to PM: Save Mount of Olives
Orthodox American Jewish organizations band together to protest Arab desecration of ancient burial site.
OUR AMERICAN ADVOCATE. ‘Almost two-thirds of the A Photo: Ariel Jerozolimski
Several prominent American Jewish organizations representing the Orthodox community have signed a letter calling on Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to “secure” the Mount of Olives and its 3,000-year-old Jewish graveyard from what they described as “continuous violence against visitors, rampant grave desecrations, dumping of refuse and gross defilement of the cemetery by local Arab youths.”
The Mount of Olives is the oldest and largest Jewish cemetery in the world.
The letter was the initiative of the International Committee for the Preservation of Har Hazeitim (“Mount of Olives”) and was signed by Rabbi Shmuel Goldin of the Rabbinical Council of America, Farley Weiss, president of the National Council of Young Israel, Orthodox Union executive vice-president Rabbi Steven Weil and Agudath Israel of America Executive vice-president Rabbi David Zweibel.
Malcolm Hoenlein, the executive vice-chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations – an umbrella group comprised of organizations representing much of organized American Jewry – hand delivered the missive to the prime minister during a visit to Israel in February.
“I think Prime Minister Netanyahu understands the importance of the issues surrounding Har Hazeitim and the significance of the sensitivities involved concerning the historic site and for the unity of Jerusalem,” Hoenlein told The Jerusalem Post on Monday.
“We have made dramatic progress in recent years, which will hopefully be completed in the coming months, to assure visits to loved ones and Jewish figures from throughout the ages take place without fear and endangerment.”
ICPHH president Abraham Lubinsky said he wished to end the “perception of fear” surrounding the ancient cemetery and to “significantly increase tourism to Judaism’s second holiest site.”
“Even after our imperatives are met and all are free to visit their departed in peace in an appropriate environment befitting this immensely important Jewish cemetery, we will continue to watch over the hallowed ground to assure that violence and vandalism never again plague this place. Only then will generations of Jews buried on Har Hazeitim truly be able to find eternal rest,” Lubinsky said.
Violence by east Jerusalem Arabs against Jewish visitors to the Mount of Olives is a persistent problem, the signatories noted, and graves are regularly found to have been overturned or smashed there, In the letter, Hoenlein noted that the signatories were gratified that the Prime Minister’s Office has worked “assertively with the appropriate government agencies and the International Committee for Har Hazeitim in installing surveillance cameras and a police sub-station at the top of Har Hazeitim.”
He continued: “These efforts have resulted in a significant reduction in the wanton destruction of graves of some of the 150,000 Jews who are buried there, including three of our prophets, foremost Torah scholars, heads of hassidic dynasties, and many of our national leaders over the ages, including prime minister Begin.”
However, Hoenlein noted, these efforts are “overshadowed by the continued violence on the approaches to Har Hazeitim, most notably the Ras al-Amud Square, and the road that leads from Har Hatsofim to Har Hazeitim.”
“By all accounts,” he wrote, “tourists, mourners and others are frequent victims of rocks being hurled as they approach, or leave, Har Hazeitim.”
Hoenlein recalled that last November, “a man walking from the Kotel Hama’aravi [Western Wall] to Ma’aleh Hazeitim was stabbed by an Arab who jumped out of a car” and that “there are reports almost every three to four days of rocks being thrown at vehicles or visitors.”
In February, a delegation of the Conference of Presidents, as well as Congressmen Jerrold Nadler and Elliot Engel, were victims of a stone throwing attack, he recalled.
The letter noted that more than 30 American states have laws which mandate “severe penalties” for crimes committed in, or near, a cemetery and asked if it was not “time that Israel protects its sacred heritage and follows suit.”
The signatories to the letter “urgently” implored “the immediate installation of the balance of surveillance cameras and the deployment of uniformed police on the access roads to Har Hazeitim” and “legislation in the Knesset that will once and for all send a message that the violent behavior of ‘minors’ is a ‘major’ offense and that those who endanger our heritage and commit violence against those who seek to visit the gravesites of our national leaders as well as loved ones who are buried there, will not be tolerated.”
Hoenlein told The Jerusalem Post that Netanyahu told him that he was “concerned by reports of ongoing violence despite the progress made with a police presence and security camera installations.”