Security cameras reduce vandalism on Mount of Olives

Vandals desecrating graves are caught more often, and are more easily convicted due to video evidence; 80 out of 147 planned cameras are already monitoring the cemetery.

By MELANIE LIDMAN
December 22, 2011 03:54
3 minute read.
Vandalism at the Mount of Olives

Vandalism at the Mount of Olives 311. (photo credit: Video obtained by the International Committee for )

 
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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.

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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.

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The cameras are funded by the Prime Minister’s Office, which is responsible for the Mount of Olives cemetery.

The 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 year.

The 137 cameras will not cover the entire cemetery, and the International Committee is trying to secure funding for more.

The cameras 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 cemetery.

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 Arabs.

“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 branch.

“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 states.

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.

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