Protecting a holy site
Mourners should not fear for their lives at any cemetery anywhere in Israel, but all the more so at the oldest continuously used burial ground on earth.
Mount of Olives Cemetery Photo: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post
It is not difficult to imagine the deafening outcry that would have arisen had
Jewish stone-throwers attacked Arab mourners and visitors to a major cemetery.
The chorus of condemnation would have become shriller yet, had the attacks not
been isolated but daily harassment and outright physical endangerment.
is safe to assume that the violent assailants would have been castigated as
despicable racists and that all-out manhunts would have been mounted to
But as it happens, the assailants are Arab while the
mourners and visitors are Jewish. Hence there is no outcry, no condemnation, no
manhunts and the word “racist” is on nobody’s lips. No one talks about the
regular predations on Jews trying to reach Jerusalem’s ancient Mount of Olives
Cemetery, regarded by many as the second holiest Jewish site anywhere.
is almost as if brutal onslaughts and lynching attempts against Jews are only to
be expected and even accepted as the norm.
It is a sad testament to an
even sadder state of affairs that Diaspora Jews feel obliged to take action to
preserve the world’s largest Jewish cemetery, while successive Israeli
governments serially fail to stem lawlessness, vandalism and neglect
American Jewish organizations have banded together to press for
meaningful security arrangements en route to the cemetery. This is not the first
time they raise the issue, arguing that the Mount is not just a local Israeli
concern but is sacred to Jews everywhere.
The pressured authorities
belatedly installed long-promised surveillance cameras and opened a police
substation at the cemetery. But there is only marginal improvement.
coverage of electronic surveillance equipment is by no means as full as needed
and the vandals are in any case apparently not daunted, realizing that they are
unlikely to be pursued. The brazen defilement at the Mount and the interminable
onslaughts on members of the public who venture there have not sufficiently
Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of
Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, told The Jerusalem Post last
week that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu had personally expressed to him his
concern about “reports of ongoing violence despite the progress made with a
police presence and security camera installations.”
Yet neither Netanyahu
nor anyone else has the right to be surprised. This is not rocket science. The
problem extends beyond the bounds of the cemetery. The greatest menace lurks on
the approaches to the cemetery, especially near Ras al-Amud Square and on the
way between Mount Scopus and the Mount of Olives.
The majority of attacks
originate from an Arab boys’ school positioned directly alongside the road
leading to the incomparable and venerable Jewish cemetery.
prepared there well in advance.
Several ways exist of putting an
immediate and effective end to the daily anti-Jewish assaults. The school can be
closed until ironclad guarantees are obtained that brutality from its grounds
will cease forthwith. Any repeat aggression would lead to another
Alternatively, the police can establish a permanent presence on
the road to the cemetery, both to protect visitors and to deter their
tormentors. To allow unrestrained lawlessness at so hallowed a site is
The Mount of Olives was already consecrated as
a grave site for Jerusalem’s Jews in pre-First Temple days 3,000 years ago. It
still serves that purpose.
The only break was during the 19 years of
Jordanian rule between 1948 and 1967.
Not only were Jews barred entry
then (in brazen contravention of armistice treaty obligations), but ancient,
irreplaceable tombstones were ripped out and used for the construction of roads,
army barracks and – underscoring the intent to defile, desecrate and humiliate –
as walls and floors of public latrines.
The Jewish return to an
indisputably Jewish site – the final resting place for a veritable pantheon of
spiritual, cultural and national paragons – is what world opinion and the Arabs
now deem as “occupation.”
But the Jewish state must not subscribe to
Mourners should not fear for their lives at any
cemetery anywhere in Israel, but all the more so at the oldest continuously used
burial ground on earth.