Illegal extension to Mount of Olives mosque almost complete

J'lem municipality says building under freeze order but being treated sensitively; police say building violations are city's responsibility.

Construction at Mount of Olives (photo credit: MELANIE LIDMAN)
Construction at Mount of Olives
(photo credit: MELANIE LIDMAN)
Illegal extensions to a mosque inside the Mount of Olives cemetery in Jerusalem are nearing completion, despite an order to freeze work from the municipality, said activists who are trying to preserve the ancient Jewish cemetery.
Construction work on the mosque is happening largely during Shabbats and Jewish holidays, when workers can take advantage of less oversight from the police and municipality.
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Right-wing activist Arieh King said he expected the extensions to be completed within two weeks, if workers maintain the current pace of construction during the Jewish holidays.
The mosque, located next to the rotary at the main entrance of the Ras el-Amud neighborhood, was built in the 1950s, when Jordan controlled the area.
Last October, Arab residents started to build two extensions of roughly 100 square meters each. Workers would bring in the materials during the week in small batches, and then complete the work quickly on Friday night and Saturday, said Jeff Daube, a member of the Israel Steering Committee of the International Committee for the Preservation of Har HaZeitim and the director of the Israel office of the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA).
The pace has picked up significantly during the holiday season.
“The problem is the municipality. ..The mayor isn’t worrying enough,” said King, who lives in the Ma’aleh HaZeitim compound located inside of Ras al-Amud. “The municipality needs to request the police stop the work, and the police need to stop it. But if the two of them don’t want to do it, then it won’t be done,” he said.
A municipality spokesman said that the building is still under a work-freeze order, and that the issue is being examined by the municipality legal adviser.
“When it comes to buildings from all of the religions – Jewish, Christian and Muslim – the municipality acts with sensitivity according to orderly procedures from the government’s legal adviser,” said the spokesman.
King and Daube faulted the police for failing to respond to reports of illegal construction.
In September, they paid a private guard to watch the area over Shabbat and notify police when construction started.
Despite a call to police when the cement truck arrived on the scene, it took police more than 45 minutes to arrive and the roof was already poured.
Jerusalem Police Spokesman Shmuel Ben Ruby said that police would not respond to illegal building because it is the responsibility of the municipality’s Licensing and Supervision Division to enforce stop work orders. Police only accompany municipality workers in stop-work orders if there is a threat of violence.
Plans for installing 150 security cameras are in the works, and 63 cameras have already been installed. But King said the cameras, which have recorded much of the illegal building of the mosque extensions, are useless because the police do not respond.
“Short of my setting up a protest tent on the top of that roof, I don’t really know how much we can do,” said Daube.
“It is up to the government and the police to take the appropriate steps, sealing the place up – or whatever it is they have got to do, they need to do it quickly,” he said.
Additionally, 20 graves in the cemetery in the “Kollel Polin” section were desecrated in the past weeks. Some of the desecrated graves were recently renovated, after a series of grave desecrations over the summer.
Daube said the issue of grave desecrations was especially sensitive for Diaspora Jews who have family members buried in the cemetery.
“We cannot tolerate bureaucratic red tape and delays by government while Arabs commit wanton destruction and illegal construction without delay,” said Avrohom Lubinsky, chairman of the International Committee for the Preservation of Har Hazeitim, who lives in New York and whose parents are buried in the cemetery.
The Mount of Olives cemetery has been used as a Jewish cemetery for more than 3,000 years and holds approximately 150,000 graves, including the grave of former Prime Minister Menachem Begin and many famous rabbis.