Extensions to Mount of Olives mosque illegal, says city

Construction continues despite municipal stop-work order; located next to rotary at main entrance to Ras el-Amud, mosque was built in 1950s.

By MELANIE LIDMAN
July 13, 2011 02:09
2 minute read.
The cemetery on the Mt. of Olives, with some 60,00

mt olives cemetery 311. (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)

 
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Right-wing activists are condemning the Jerusalem Municipality for failing to stop the illegal expansion of a controversial mosque in the Mount of Olives cemetery that has tripled in size since last fall.

The mosque, located next to the rotary at the main entrance of the Ras el-Amud neighborhood, was built in the 1950s, when Jordan controlled the area.

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But starting in October, Arab residents built two extensions, of roughly 100 square meters each. Workers would bring in the materials during the week in batches, and then complete the work quickly on Friday night and Saturday, said Jeff Daube, a member of the Israel Steering Committee of the International Committee for the Preservation of Har HaZeitim and the director of the Israel office of the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA).

A municipality spokeswoman said that there was a stop-work order placed on the mosque, and that the municipality was pursuing various legal avenues with the attorney-general in order to stop the illegal construction.

There are between 20,000 to 30,000 illegal structures in east Jerusalem. Arab residents say that building permits are impossible to obtain from the municipality, and they are forced to build illegally.

“I understand the Arabs here,” said Arieh King, the director of the conservative Israel Land Fund. “They see there’s no law, there’s no rules, there’s no justice, everyone does what they want,” he said.

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King, who lives in the Jewish complex of Ma’aleh Hazeitim inside of Ras el- Amud, added that he sent photos of ongoing construction on a daily basis to city councilors and the mayor.

King, Daube and other activists were concerned by the mosque’s expansion in such a sensitive area.

“There has been a tremendous amount of illegal building by Arabs around sides of cemeteries,” said Daube.

“Because of where it is, it is the most blatant manifestation of that kind of illegal building. Also, what concerns me is the proximity to some prominent graves, including [Former Prime Minister] Menahem Begin and Rav Kook, which are just 5 meters away.”

Two weeks ago, King and Daube organized for a guard to sit in a car outside of the mosque on Friday night and notify the police when he saw construction.

Late in the evening, a cement truck came to pour the roof for the new extension. The guard called the police, who didn’t arrive for 40 minutes. By the time the police arrived, the roof was finished.

King expressed anger with the mayor that he had put a stop-work order rather than a demolition order on the extensions.

“When it comes to buildings from all of the religions – Jewish, Christian, and Muslim – the municipality acts with sensitivity according to orderly procedures from the government’s legal advisor,” said the spokeswoman.

The Mount of Olives cemetery has been used as a Jewish and Muslim cemetery for more than 3,000 years and holds approximately 150,000 graves.

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