It’s a sad testament to an even sadder state of affairs that Diaspora Jews feel
obliged to take action to preserve the Mount of Olives (Har Hazeitim) cemetery,
while successive Israeli governments serially fail to stem lawlessness,
vandalism and neglect there.
Last Friday, executive vice president of the
Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations Malcolm Hoenlein
visited the cemetery with US Congressmen Eliot Engel (D-New York) and Jerrold
Nadler (D-New York). As they inspected the clearly visible damage, a large rock
was hurled at them.
On Monday, Hoenlein and other American Jewish
leaders, all members of the International Committee for the Preservation of Har
Hazeitim (ICPHH), appeared in the Knesset to plead for tighter security at what
is the Jewish people’s most ancient burial ground -the final resting place to a
veritable pantheon of religious, spiritual, cultural and national paragons
(including even Biblical prophets Zeharia, Hagai and Malachi).
incomparable site is systematically targeted by its Arab neighbors, who
regularly desecrate it and attack mourners and visitors.
lack no excuses for this shamefully ongoing outrage. Jerusalem Police spokesman
Shmuel Ben-Ruby promised on Tuesday that “next month a police post will be
inaugurated at the mount. The presence of officers should constitute a
The opening of the station, however, is already behind
schedule. This fact beggars the imagination, considering what’s at
Ben-Ruby claimed that automatic cameras installed in the cemetery
have increased the number of arrests. That may be so, but the improvement is
hard to discern on the ground and the coverage of electronic surveillance
equipment is by no means as full as it should be. The brazen defilement at the
mount and the interminable onslaughts on members of the public who venture there
haven’t appreciably subsided.
Back in 2010, State Comptroller Micha
Lindenstrauss excoriated the enduring neglect by many governments: “Repair work
proceeds at a snail’s pace, maintenance standards are inadequate, security is
sorely lacking and vandalism and criminal acts continue unabated, accentuating
the danger that funds and labor already invested at the site will go down the
Many words and several years later, little appears to have
changed. The government, Knesset committees and Jerusalem’s municipality
recurrently announce impressive renovation projects to rebuild, record and map
thousands of destroyed graves. The results fail to match the
Vandals still smear human feces on tombs and deluge them with
household rubbish and construction debris.
Markers are daubed in tar and
paint. Hate graffiti are scrawled and gravestones are hammered and
Nocturnal devastation is accompanied by daytime assaults.
Mourners fear going there. Vehicles are habitually stoned from the yard of a
nearby Arab school in an especially eerie expression of
Inconceivably, there’s no respite from the deliberate predations
on the mountain slopes where Jews have been interring their dead for over 3,000
Its proximity to the Temple Mount, as well as the traditional
proscription against burials within Jerusalem’s walls, made the Mount of Olives
hallowed already in First Temple days.
The chain continued unbroken, save
for 19 years of Jordanian occupation (1948-67), during which the cemetery was
callously despoiled in barefaced breach of the Hashemite Kingdom’s undertakings
to safeguard holy places. The destruction was unbridled and
premeditated. Ancient tombstones were ripped out and used as latrine
floors, urinal walls and pavement stones. The Intercontinental Hotel and Jericho
Road were constructed over ancient graves. Garbage was routinely dumped on the
Post-liberation, prominent Israelis such as former prime minister
Menachem Begin, Nobel laureate author Shai Agnon, poet Uri Zvi Greenberg, and
Rabbis Shlomo Goren and Zvi Yehuda Kook asked to be laid to rest there.
Nevertheless, this guaranteed no minimal upkeep or security for what is a
cemetery of unmatched historical continuity and significance anywhere in the
Had a minuscule proportion of such aggression occurred at Jewish
cemeteries abroad, Israel would have expectedly lodged formal complaints and
demanded practical protection. The time has come to practice what we
A state which aspires to keep its capital undivided must surely
be capable of stopping the rampant anarchy and abandon on the Mount of Olives.