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(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Lost among more sensational findings last week were the state comptroller’s lamentations over the sad state of the Mount of Olives Cemetery – the Jewish people’s most ancient burial ground and final resting place to a pantheon of religious, spiritual, cultural and national paragons, including even the prophets Zechariah, Haggai and Malachi.
While noting with approval moves begun in December by the Prime Minister’s Office to supervise security at the cemetery, State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss excoriated ongoing neglect by successive governments: “Repair work proceeds at a snail’s pace, maintenance standards are inadequate, security is sorely lacking and vandalism and criminal acts continue unabated, accentuating the danger that funds and labor already invested at the site will go down the drain.”
These admonitions were ironically underscored on the very day the nation marked the 43rd anniversary of Jerusalem’s reunification. As parades and celebrations were underway elsewhere, busloads of funeral participants were stoned near the cemetery. Four mourners needed medical care. Those who made it inside found 23 headstones smashed in one section alone.
It seems inconceivable that nothing can be done to deter deliberate unremitting predations on the mountain slopes where Jews have been interring their dead for more than 3,000 years. Its proximity to the city and the Temple Mount, as well as the traditional proscription against burials within Jerusalem’s walls, made the Mount of Olives hallowed already in First Temple days.
The chain had been unbroken, save for 19 years of Jordanian occupation (1948-67), during which the cemetery was callously and systematically desecrated in blatant violation of the Hashemite Kingdom’s pro forma undertakings to preserve holy places. The destruction was unbridled and premeditated. Ancient tombstones were torn out to be used as latrine floors, urinal walls and pavement stones. The Intercontinental Hotel and Jericho Road were constructed over graves. Garbage was regularly dumped on the tombs.
After Jerusalem’s liberation, burials were resumed but dignity, good order and safety weren’t restored. Though public figures such as former prime minister Menachem Begin, author Shai Agnon, poet Uri Zvi Greenberg, rabbis Shlomo Goren and Zvi Yehuda Kook – among numerous others – asked to be laid to rest there, their choice failed to bring even minimal proper upkeep and security to what doubtlessly is a cemetery of historical continuity and significance unmatched anywhere in the world.
AS UNDERSCORED by the state comptroller, the cemetery is visited regularly by Arab vandals, whose favorite target is unaccountably the Gerrer Rebbe’s tombstone, but Begin’s has also been damaged over the years. They sometimes smear human feces on the tombs and deluge them with household rubbish and construction debris. Markers have been daubed in tar and paint, hate graffiti has been scrawled and gravestones have been hammered and shattered.
Nighttime vandalism is accompanied by assaults on visitors during daylight. Many people understandably fear going there. Recently a family was attacked by Arabs with boards, cement blocks and rocks. Two of its members had to be hospitalized. Vehicles are stoned frequently from the yard of a nearby Arab school in a particularly disturbing manifestation of enmity.
Had a fraction of such incidents occurred in any Jewish cemetery abroad,
Israel would surely have lodged official protests and demanded
reasonable protection. The time has come to do ourselves what we expect
As Washington and Ramallah unite in censure of Jewish construction over
the Green Line in Jerusalem, Israel is failing to assert even protective
control at the Mount of Olives.
The dereliction of a landmark so significant in its emotive importance
to Jews stains Israel’s honor. Fences, electronic surveillance, cameras
and the like are frequently promised but never completed or installed.
Jerusalem’s Municipality regularly announces wholesale renovation
projects to rebuild, record and map thousands of despoiled and defaced
graves. The results serially fail to match the hype.
A state facing challenges to its sovereign rights in its own capital
must surely be expected to stem the rampant lawlessness and abandon on
the Mount of Olives. For in the words of the late Yigal Allon, “A nation
which cannot respect its past will lose its future.”