Israeli history photo of the week: The Mount of Olives

JPost special feature: A Library of Congress collection of photographs that document Israel prior to 1948.

February 23, 2012 15:40
1 minute read.
Mt of Olives

Mt of Olives . (photo credit: American Colony-Jerusalem-Photo Dept.)


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The Library of Congress has recently digitalized a collection of over 10,000 photographs, taken by the "American Colony" in Jerusalem, a group of Christian utopians who lived in Jerusalem between 1881 and the 1940s. The photographers returned to the US, and bequeathed their massive collection to the Library of Congress in 1978. The collection includes Winston Churchill's visit to Jerusalem, Jewish expulsions from the Old City during Arab riots, and the building of Tel Aviv.

An estimated 150,000 Jews have been buried on the Mount of Olives over the last 3,000 years, opposite the Golden Gate of the city and the Temple Mount.   The ancient cemetery was favored by the devout as their burial site in anticipation of the eschatological resurrection of the dead.

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Until 1917, Palestine was ruled by the Ottoman Turks; from 1917 until 1948 it was under British control.  The Turks often discriminated against the Jews (one governor ordered the burial of dogs in a Jewish cemetery in Jerusalem-- "with the other dogs") and expelled thousands of Jews from Jaffa.  The "Tyrant" Hassan Bek used Jewish gravestones to build a mosque between Jaffa and the new Tel Aviv, shown in photos from 1917.

When Jordanian troops captured eastern Jerusalem in 1948, they followed Hassan Bek's example and used the Jewish gravestones for their construction needs.

After the recapture of eastern Jerusalem in 1967, Jews were shocked at the widespread desecration of the ancient cemetery. Some 38,000 stones and graves had been smashed. 

Since then great efforts were made to restore the graves and tombstones.

Today, Jews are once again burying their dead in the Mount of Olives cemetery, although they are shocked to find that vandalism of this important site persists today.

More photos can be viewed at

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