J'lem: Givat Shaul cemetery to get facelift

The contrast was stark. On Monday, the Mount Herzl Military Cemetery in Jerusalem was freshly groomed and trimmed for Remembrance Day for the Fallen of Israel's Wars, which was to begin that evening. But just a few kilometers away, Jerusalem's main civilian cemetery on Har Hamenuhot in Givat Shaul was a dirty, littered, graffiti-covered mess. "The feeling is that nobody takes care of it, there's no organization," said a person visiting his father's grave who refused to give his name. "It makes me very, very sad. I am really sorry that my father, of blessed memory, is there," he said. The cemetery's topography also makes it impossible for disabled individuals to get to most of the graves. Responsibility for the area's upkeep is divided among various burial societies and the Council of Jewish Cemeteries of Jerusalem. "Everyone takes care of his own area and it doesn't look that good," said Eli Moyal, treasurer of the Ma'aravim burial society, one of many organizations that administer sections of Givat Shaul. "The Cemeteries Council needs to take matters into its own hands." According to council head Meir Shpigler, if a public area of the cemetery is neglected, the council takes care of it. But the burial societies are responsible for their own sections. He added, however, that the council is responsible for ensuring that the burial societies are doing what they are supposed to do. The Jerusalem Municipality, in a statement, said that upkeep of the cemetery is the responsibility of the Cemeteries Council. However, the city is getting involved in the issue. "To improve the conditions, the municipality created a partnership with the burial societies and the Cemeteries Council to take care of the cemetery in cooperation. Recently, a tender was published for the cleaning work, which will include improving the walkways, cleaning the graffiti, improving the bathrooms, and more," the municipality said. Shpigler said he is aware of the conditions at the cemetery, and that whenever the council gets complaints, it tries to take care of them. Access Israel chairman Yuval Wagner said that the most common problems in cemeteries are lack of accessible parking, inaccessible walkways and toilets and lack of benches. "This is a very sensitive issue for people," he said. "The government should do its best so relatives [who are disabled] can be there." Wagner said that even though old graves cannot be moved and complete accessibility is usually not achievable, progress can be made. "We do believe that you can do a lot to improve the situation," he said. Even for an able-bodied individual, navigating the Givat Shaul cemetery can be a challenge. "It's very crowded. It's very hard to walk between the graves," the man visiting his father's grave said. "There's no traffic planning there. I went there a few days ago and the whole road was blocked because of a funeral, so if something happened and an ambulance had to get there, it couldn't," he added. Shpigler said there are plans to improve the conditions. "[The tasks are] taking care of the cleaning of the place, monitoring the areas to avoid sabotage, and improving as much as we can the things that people use there, like walkways, water, bathrooms, parking places and fences so people do not fall from one level to another - because there are a lot of places there that are dangerous. "In addition, we are going to put a lot of effort to try to plant a lot of trees and flowers all over the area," he said. He added that there are plans to start burying people in a new section that will be less crowded.