mount of olives 248.88.
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
It’s a sad testament to an even sadder state of affairs that Diaspora Jews are
feeling obliged to take action to preserve the Mount of Olives Cemetery, while
successive Israeli governments have allowed lawlessness, vandalism and neglect
to reign there.
An international watch-committee set up by overseas Jews
hopes to reverse the desecration inflicted systematically by neighboring Arab
vandals on the Jewish people’s most ancient burial ground – the final resting
place of a veritable pantheon of religious, spiritual, cultural and national
paragons, including the biblical prophets Zechariah, Haggai and
The initiative was formally launched on Saturday night at
Jerusalem’s Great Synagogue. It was triggered by a recent visit of members of
the Lubinsky family of New York to relatives’ graves on the Mount. There, they
noticed adjacent tombstones were wrecked, according to Menachem Lubinsky, with
“the kind of maliciousness that defies the imagination.”
Stirred by what
they witnessed, the family reached out to well-known Jews and Jewish
organizations worldwide to set up a framework to keep an eye on the
It’s not as if the sorry situation were unknown. Last December,
the Prime Minister’s Office announced moves to heighten security there. In May,
State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss excoriated the ongoing neglect of the
issue: “Repair work proceeds at 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,” he said.
Many words and still more months
later, little appears to have changed. Mourners are still stoned frequently near
the cemetery and headstones are regularly defaced and smashed. This on the
mountain slopes where Jews have been interring their dead for over 3,000 years.
Its proximity to the Temple Mount, as well as the traditional proscription
against burials within Jerusalem’s walls, made the Mount of Olives hallowed as
far back as First Temple days.
The chain continued unbroken, save for 19
years of Jordanian occupation (1948-67), during which the cemetery was despoiled
in a callous breach of the Hashemite Kingdom’s undertakings to safeguard holy
places. The destruction was unbridled and premeditated. Ancient tombstones were
ripped 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.
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After the Six Day War, when the area
came under Israeli sovereign control, prominent Israelis like former prime
minister Menachem Begin, Nobel laureate Shai Agnon, poet Uri Zvi Greenberg, and
rabbis Shlomo Goren and Zvi Yehuda Kook asked to be laid to rest there.
Nevertheless, this did not bring the necessary allocation of resources for
upkeep and security at a cemetery of peerless historical continuity and
The preferred target of the vandals, who recurrently raid
after sundown, is enigmatically the Gerrer Rebbe’s grave, but Begin’s has also
been damaged. Vandals have smeared human feces on tombs and deluged 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
Because of the frequent daytime assaults on visitors, many
fear going there. Vehicles are routinely stoned from the yard of a nearby Arab
school in an especially dismal expression of enmity.
Had a minuscule
proportion of such aggression occurred in Jewish cemeteries abroad, Israel would
have lodged formal complaints and demanded better protection.
It is long
overdue for the government to practice what we preach.
should be shamed by the fact that private American Jews have had to recruit
major Jewish organizations to take upon themselves what our government should
have done long ago.
Fences, electronic surveillance, cameras and the like
are frequently promised but have not yet been completed or installed. The
government, Knesset committees and Jerusalem’s Municipality regularly announce
impressive renovation projects to rebuild, record and map thousands of destroyed
graves. The results fail to match the hype.
Acquiescence in the
dereliction of a landmark of such central emotive importance to Jews blemishes
Israel’s honor. It also makes a mockery of Israel’s declared aspiration to keep
its capital undivided.
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