‘The violence has been going on for years’

Jewish residents in the Mount of Olives area maintain that a potential ‘Jerusalem intifada’ has not in fact dissipated, but is part of their daily reality.

A shattered light rail window. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
A shattered light rail window.
For the 1,000 Jewish residents of the Mount of Olives, the violence that some call the Jerusalem intifada of 2014 has never subsided.
“It has been going on for many years in Jerusalem.
Due to the war [last summer], it was exaggerated...
We live through constant waves of terrorism in the area. We are basically attacked on a daily basis,” asserts Joshua Wander, local representative of the International Committee for the Preservation of the Mount of Olives and head of the security committee for the area’s Jewish communities.
The largest of these communities is Ma’aleh Zeitim, home to around 120 families. Wander moved to the area a year and a half ago, but has spent many years in Jerusalem. He describes a thriving Jewish community, but also one that has observed a great deal of violence.
“Sometimes it is stones, sometimes more serious cases of stabbings or Molotov cocktails being thrown.”
Inside its gates, the community is “one of the safest” in Jerusalem, Wander maintains; people don’t lock their doors, and children play freely. But during Ramadan this year and last, there has been an uptick in attacks. Last year, the road via E-Tur and the Mount of Olives was closed because many Arabs use the mosque near the community.
“Tensions were higher, and they [the police] restricted access to the community along the main road on Fridays,” he explains.
But it is a sacrifice Wander and his community are willing to make. “We definitely feel privileged to live where we do. We feel like the front holding Jerusalem as a united capital of the Jewish people.”
He claims that most of the violence against Jewish drivers and community members’ homes goes unreported – something he says is linked to a larger phenomenon of inattention to the “daily attacks” on the Mount of Olives Jewish cemetery, the country’s largest and oldest.
“We try to raise public awareness so that there will be a response,” Wander says.
In recent weeks, politicians, ministers and highranking police officials have visited the cemetery to witness the destruction of hundreds of graves. At a Knesset Interior Committee meeting on June 16, Kedem District Police commander Ch.-Supt. Chaim Shmueli recommended building a fence to protect the graves, noting that there were 26 officers stationed on the Mount of Olives. But MKs Yoav Ben-Tzur (Shas), Yisrael Eichler (United Torah Judaism) and Bezalel Smotrich (Bayit Yehudi) pilloried the police and the state for having abandoned the sovereignty of Jerusalem.
Wander contends that there is hypocrisy in how the media deal with the issue. “I give tours of the cemetery, and I always say that if there was an incident in any other Jewish cemetery, like swastikas in Europe, it would be front-page news.”
The Jewish community feels abandoned, like it is living in a kind of “Wild West” where “laws are basically suspended,” he argues. People in the community observe that assailants are rarely caught, and feel that the current laws do not treat stone-throwing harshly enough.
“On Shabbat, there was a Molotov cocktail thrown on my neighbor’s porch; I had four fall within feet of my daughters playing in the main square,” recounts Wander. “The purpose is to cause bodily harm, and maim and kill Jews.”
Jerusalem Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld acknowledges that “there was an increase in incidents in the last weeks in some neighborhoods, such as the Jebl Mukaber area, Wadi Joz, Silwan and the Mount of Olives.”
In those areas, he continues, “police responded to stones thrown at vehicles and a number of Molotov cocktails. As a result, security measures have been implemented and assessments made, and [there has been] an increase in patrols.”
He adds that police are also using CCTV camera footage to find suspects after the incidents take place.
“This is a sensitive period, and [because] it is Ramadan and thousands are coming into the Old City area, police have to deal with security-related issues and prevention,” he says.
Nevertheless, Rosenfeld maintains, “it is absolutely quieter than last year during the same period. Last summer, the situation was more intensive and different, including ongoing day-to-day incidents. We focus now on a number of specific areas mentioned above; we are working on numerous levels to deal with security issues.”
Regarding the situation on the Mount of Olives, he says that “there is private security and Border Police patrols... and they respond quickly. They are fully trained and armed. So even if you don’t have a police patrol [at the time of an incident], you have Border Police with non-lethal weapons.
“We are focused on preventing and responding.”