Vandalism at the Mount of Olives 311.
(photo credit: Video obtained by the International Committee for )
A year after the Prime Minister’s Office began funding security cameras in the
Mount of Olives cemetery, vandals desecrating graves are caught more often, and
are more easily convicted due to video evidence.
On Tuesday, the
International Committee for the Preservation of Har Hazeitim (the Mount of
Olives) released video footage from the security cameras, showing a man throwing
bricks and trying to break a headstone on November 29. As he was walking away
from the site he was apprehended by two private security guards, and later
arrested by police.
Due to the video footage, he was sentenced to three
months in prison. During the course of the investigation, the man said he had
been paid NIS 1,000 to vandalize a grave.
There are 80 security cameras
in the cemetery; by the end of 2012, there will be 137. There is also one
thermal camera to catch vandals at night using heat sensors, and there will
eventually be six more.RELATED:Illegal extension to Mount of Olives mosque almost complete 4 arrested for desecration of 20 tombs on Mt. of Olives
The cameras are funded by the Prime Minister’s
Office, which is responsible for the Mount of Olives cemetery.
cameras will cost a total of roughly NIS 80 million, which is part of a NIS
630m. budget for improving the Old City’s infrastructure that was
approved in 2006. The authorities began installing the cameras in the past
The 137 cameras will not cover the entire cemetery, and the
International Committee is trying to secure funding for more.
feed into a command center located on the main road of the cemetery that is
manned around the clock by a private company. When guards see vandalism on their
screens, they alert the private security company that provides security to Jews
living in majority Arab neighborhoods in east Jerusalem, including in Silwan,
Ras al-Amud and the Old City.
“The cameras certainly scare the vandals,
but their capability is limited,” said Elad Kandl, the director of the Old City
for the Jerusalem Development Authority, which is overseeing improvements to the
Kandl said the cameras had enabled the police to arrest and
successfully prosecute many more people caught desecrating graves, but he
declined to give exact figures.
The International Committee stressed the
need for a permanent police presence in the area to stop vandalism before it
starts and to protect visitors and mourners who are often stoned by
“Why isn’t this a matter of national interest? It’s a disgrace,
things are being done but not enough,” said Harvey Schwartz, the recently
elected chairman of the International Committee’s Israel
“Anything of Jewish interest of this magnitude has to be
protected. Finally they have begun efforts, but it’s not nearly enough and not
quickly enough,” Schwartz said. “What do we look like if we’re not protecting
our national cemetery? We look like fools.”
He demanded a police
investigation to determine who is funding the vandals-for-hire and paying NIS
1,000 per grave desecrated.
Schwartz said desecration of a Jewish
cemetery in any other country would prompt international outrage and a strong
condemnation from Israel, while desecration is happening on a daily basis in one
of Judaism’s oldest and holiest cemeteries. The International Committee has
tried to push forward legislation making desecrating a cemetery a much more
serious crime with a harsher sentence. In America, cemetery desecration is a
felony and is punishable by up to seven years in prison in some
The Mount of Olives has been used as a Jewish cemetery for more
than 3,000 years and holds approximately 150,000 graves, including those of
prime minister Menachem Begin, writer Shmuel Yosef Agnon, Hadassah founder
Henrietta Szold and the Ramban.