“I can’t take you to the Mount of Olives, it’s 10:15 a.m.!” I threw up my hands
in exasperation when the third taxi driver in a row refused to take me to the
new police post on the mount.
“Fine,” I told him. “Take me to the Hebrew
University and I’ll walk from there.”
Activist organizations have cited
an increase in stone-throwing attacks against Jewish vehicles trying to get to
the cemetery on the capital’s Mount of Olives in the past year, but never was
this fact more visible than on Wednesday morning when I couldn’t find a cab to
take me to... a police station.
“You have to understand, at 10:30 a.m.
the students at the boys’ school will go out for recess and they’ll just throw
stones at us for fun,” the driver explained apologetically as we headed toward
The elementary school, located near the main entrance to
the cemetery, has been the site of frequent stone-throwing attacks, so I could
understand his hesitation. A new police station won’t change the situation
overnight, he told me.
He drove me as far as Augusta Victoria Hospital,
after which I hurried by foot for 20 minutes down the main street of a-Tur
towards the Rehavim Overlook and the Seven Arches Hotel.
I was attempting
to join Deputy Knesset Speaker Danny Danon (Likud), head of the Immigration
Absorption and Diaspora Affairs Committee on the tour of the police post. The
Mount of Olives post, which has 24 full-time officers, opened last week in
response to increasing desecration of graves and stoning attacks against
visitors and mourners trying to visit the ancient Jewish cemetery.
new post was announced just four months ago. It is a branch of the Shalem police
district, the headquarters of which are on Salah a-Din Street in the Sheikh
The post, which will be open 24 hours a day, also
received four new police cruisers and a small all-terrain vehicle that can
navigate the narrow and steep paths in the cemetery.
Hayon, commander of the Shalem District, said the post’s presence means tourists
and mourners who are attacked can immediately file complaints. The “massive
presence” of police officers on the Mount of Olives, in addition to regular
patrols by border police, will lead to a decrease in violent incidents, he
But Hayon’s optimism clearly hasn’t filtered down to the taxi
drivers, who refuse to go anywhere near the Mount of Olives.
“I only take
families there who want to visit graves if I have a security escort,” Yosef, the
taxi driver, told me. Anyone who wants a security escort to the cemetery from
the Hebrew University should get in touch with the Construction and Housing
Ministry, which oversees the private security contracts in east
Michael Marsh, a representative of the ministry, said during
the tour that each day guards make 60 to 70 escort trips to protect people
visiting graves from stone-throwers.
The ministry also oversees the 122
security cameras on the Mount of Olives aimed at halting the rampant grave
desecration and will install an additional 13 cameras over the next two months.
These cameras, which reach all the way down to the Garden of Gethsemane, will
soon be connected to the police station, though they currently operate
On Jerusalem Day, which falls this year on May 20, when
the capital is expected to receive a large “Defense of Jerusalem” grant from the
Knesset, NIS 20 million of the grant will be dedicated to developing and
protecting the Mount of Olives over the next five years.
acknowledged that, given my experiences with taxi drivers, it would take a while
to change the public perception of the area.
“This is a symptom of the
lack of security on the mount,” he told me. “[It will continue] until there is a
serious presence, not just of police, but also of the public.”
the future of the Mount of Olives depends on bringing in school groups and
tourists, making it a major tourist attraction. He compared the site to the City
of David Archeology Park, which was once considered so dangerous that no one
would park their cars there.
With the influx of students and tourists,
the security situation changed.
“The challenge is to bring people here to
the graves. The moment there’s a mass of people here it will be
different,” Danon said.
Tell that to the taxi drivers, I told
“Well,” he asked, “can we at least give you a lift back?”