MKs and ministers called for higher security and more police action on the Mount of Olives in the capital on a Knesset Interior Committee visit to the site on Sunday, following repeated cases of grave site vandalism and violence against Jewish visitors to the cemetery.
Avshalom Feld, the deputy commander of the police’s Jerusalem district, told the lawmakers that he estimates that half of the next police chief’s time will be taken up by problems in east Jerusalem, presenting a litany of incidents that the police must deal with in the Mount of Olives area: Vandalism, destruction of graves, shootings, stabbings, vehicular attacks, rock-throwing, firecracker-throwing, arson, attacks on security guards and police, damage to security cameras and road-blocking.
Feld said police plan to install 160 more security cameras in the next four years and have police supervise more areas of the Mount of Olives Cemetery.
He also said the police would like to build a fence along the eastern area of the mount, but he is waiting for the budget to be authorized.
There is an average of 344 patrols on the Mount of Olives per month, Feld stated. The police opens a case for every incident that is reported. In 2014, 37 cases were opened with 14 arrests and six indictments.
So far, in 2015, 17 cases were opened and 11 people were arrested, but they were all released because they were minors. In addition, there is a police station on the site, at which visitors can file complaints at any time.
“The problem is that most of those arrested are minors and we deal with them through their parents, who are brought in for investigation. The law doesn’t give a response,” Feld explained.
According to Feld, there are fewer incidents than before and the police review the situation daily.
“You are making efforts, but the bottom line is that Jews don’t visit,” Interior Committee chairman David Amsalem (Likud) said.
MK Uri Maklev (UTJ) said that even if the police say there are fewer incidents, the public does not feel that way.
“Every district commander makes promises, and in the end... orphans beg for their parents not to be buried on the mount,” Maklev stated. “You said there’s no station – we added one. You asked for technology – you got it. The punishments were made more stringent, the budget went up, and the results were a total failure...As long as people avoid visiting the Mount of Olives, it is a sign that the security failed.”
Maklev said the fact that too many government bodies deal with the mount – the police, Public Security Ministry, Construction Ministry, Jerusalem Affairs Ministry, Jerusalem Development Authority, Cemeteries Council – is problematic.
Construction Minister Yoav Galant (Kulanu) said the trip was meant to ensure that Israel’s sovereignty over the site is being protected, and called on Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon and Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan to form a united command in which police, Border Police and Construction Ministry security guards work together.
“Don’t let people fool you...money alone won’t solve the problem,” Galant said. “That’s why we agreed with the Public Security Ministry and Jerusalem Municipality to pool resources.”
Jerusalem Affairs Minister Ze’ev Elkin (Likud) said the ministry invested NIS 90 million in security, via the Jerusalem Development Authority, even though that is not its job.
He plans to continue to invest in developing the Mount of Olives and attract many visitors to the site.
“We will only succeed in this mission if the police put security on the mount, and east Jerusalem in general, high on its list of priorities. Our national heroes are buried there; this is a mission of the utmost importance, to defend our national honor,” he said. “We cannot accept the current situation.”
MK Bezalel Smotrich (Bayit Yehudi) said two of his sisters live at Ma’aleh Hazeitim on the Mount of Olives, and he can only visit them in a rock-proof car.
“The feeling is that [police] got a budget and manpower and there’s still no response,” he stated.
“Sovereignty over the mount is a symbol that we must fight for,” Deputy Interior Minister Jackie Levy said. “This isn’t just a matter of security. When more people come to the mount, it will be more secure.”
Amsalem said that if he were the Jerusalem police commander, he would not be able to sleep at night because of the situation.
“National heroes, IDF soldiers and great rabbis are buried here... I’m sick of hearing there is no budget. I am ashamed as a citizen and as a MK. We will follow the situation on the mount until it is safe and open to those ascending it,” Amsalem declared.