Construction at Mount of Olives.
(photo credit: MELANIE LIDMAN)
Illegal extensions to a mosque inside the Mount of Olives cemetery in Jerusalem
are nearing completion, despite an order to freeze work from the municipality,
said activists who are trying to preserve the ancient Jewish
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Construction work on the mosque is happening largely during
Shabbats and Jewish holidays, when workers can take advantage of less oversight
from the police and municipality.
Right-wing activist Arieh King said he
expected the extensions to be completed within two weeks, if workers maintain
the current pace of construction during the Jewish holidays.
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.
Arab residents started to build two extensions of roughly 100 square meters
each. Workers would bring in the materials during the week in small 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).
The pace has picked up
significantly during the holiday season.
“The problem is the
municipality. ..The mayor isn’t worrying enough,” said King, who lives in
the Ma’aleh HaZeitim compound located inside of Ras al-Amud. “The municipality
needs to request the police stop the work, and the police need to stop it. But
if the two of them don’t want to do it, then it won’t be done,” he
A municipality spokesman said that the building is still under a
work-freeze order, and that the issue is being examined by the municipality
“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 adviser,” said the
King and Daube faulted the police for failing to respond to
reports of illegal construction.
In September, they paid a private guard
to watch the area over Shabbat and notify police when construction
Despite a call to police when the cement truck arrived on the
scene, it took police more than 45 minutes to arrive and the roof was already
Jerusalem Police Spokesman Shmuel Ben Ruby said that police would
not respond to illegal building because it is the responsibility of the
municipality’s Licensing and Supervision Division to enforce stop work orders.
Police only accompany municipality workers in stop-work orders if there is a
threat of violence.
Plans for installing 150 security cameras are in the
works, and 63 cameras have already been installed. But King said the cameras,
which have recorded much of the illegal building of the mosque extensions, are
useless because the police do not respond.
“Short of my setting up a
protest tent on the top of that roof, I don’t really know how much we can do,”
“It is up to the government and the police to take the
appropriate steps, sealing the place up – or whatever it is they have got to do,
they need to do it quickly,” he said.
Additionally, 20 graves in the
cemetery in the “Kollel Polin” section were desecrated in the past weeks. Some
of the desecrated graves were recently renovated, after a series of grave
desecrations over the summer.
Daube said the issue of grave desecrations
was especially sensitive for Diaspora Jews who have family members buried in the
“We cannot tolerate bureaucratic red tape and delays by
government while Arabs commit wanton destruction and illegal construction
without delay,” said Avrohom Lubinsky, chairman of the International Committee
for the Preservation of Har Hazeitim, who lives in New York and whose parents
are buried in the cemetery.
The Mount of Olives cemetery has been used as
a Jewish cemetery for more than 3,000 years and holds approximately 150,000
graves, including the grave of former Prime Minister Menachem Begin and many