Knesset committee discusses attacks on Israelis, others at Mount of Olives

MK Regev says visitors in "mortal danger," demands accountability and plan of action from police.

Israelis attacked at Mount of Olives 370 (photo credit: Courtesy ZOA)
Israelis attacked at Mount of Olives 370
(photo credit: Courtesy ZOA)
One day after a yeshiva student was hospitalized following a rock-throwing attack while driving near the Mount of Olives – illustrating the ongoing pattern of violence endemic to the area – the Knesset Interior Committee met on Monday to discuss improving security there.
In east Jerusalem, the Mount of Olives is home to Judaism’s oldest cemetery, where four prophets, former prime minister Menachem Begin, Hebrew revivalist Eliezer Ben-Yehuda and leaders of revered rabbinical dynasties are buried. It is accessible only by driving through Palestinian neighborhoods.
According to police, at least 24 attacks on Israelis and others took place near the site in October.
“I’m afraid today to go to the Mount of Olives,” said MK Miri Regev (Likud), who chairs the committee and led the meeting.
“When you travel there you find yourself in mortal danger.”
MK Avraham Michaeli (Shas), who initiated the meeting, said he had repeatedly sought to spur greater police measures to secure the area.
“A change needs to be made to the law to protect people there,” he said.
After listening to numerous complaints from both victims and activists, Regev demanded accountability from police and all government agencies responsible for security in the area.
“I want a report in one week detailing the number of crimes, arrests, convictions and who is responsible for security on the Mount of Olives from the police, Jerusalem Municipality and Justice Ministry,” she said.
She added that in two months she would hold another hearing to check on what has been done to afford greater protection to visitors.
The majority of the attacks have taken place on the main roads leading to the site, being undertaken by Palestinian students from a nearby high school and middle school.
Although police built a substation in the area a year-anda- half ago and agreed to have two dozen officers patrol roads around the clock, participants at the Knesset committee meeting said the police presence had fallen far short of what was promised.
“We were told police would be patrolling the area 24-hours a day in three shifts, with eight officers in each shift, but that has never happened,” said Harvey Schwartz, chairman of the Israel steering committee for the International Committee for the Preservation of Har Hazeitim (ICPHH).
Har Hazeitim is Hebrew for the Mount of Olives.
“We generally don’t see more than one or two officers at any given time,” he said.
Regev asked a police representative whether the substation was open around the clock. When the representative equivocated, she said police appeared to be neglecting their responsibilities.
“There is a sense that the police force is in a state of default and has not executed its role properly,” she said.
Asked how police had acted to stymie the violence, national spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said after the meeting that the police and Border Guard presence on the Mount of Olives had been increased, and that the authorities were working in coordination with a private security firm.
“Mainly we’ve seen that Palestinian students from nearby schools are involved in the incidents, so we have added more closed-circuit TV cameras and stationed undercover officers near the schools to make arrests,” he said.
Hillel Horowitz, CEO of the Cemetery Council of Jerusalem, strongly condemned the police response and demanded that more officers be assigned immediately along with additional security cameras.
“This is not rioting; this is attempted murder!” Horowitz stated.
While ICPHH chairman Abe Lubinsky praised Regev following the meeting, he noted that during a similar hearing in May she had also called on police to submit a report, which was never submitted.
Still, he said he was pleased with the MK’s resolve to ensure that steps are taken to curtail the violence.
“I think it’s very good that she puts the onus on them to come up with the reports and a plan of action,” said Lubinsky, referring to the police. “It looks like she is highly motivated, which is good.”
Meanwhile, ICPHH Israel steering committee head Schwartz said he was perplexed as to why the police and government had taken steps in east Jerusalem to address so-called price tag attacks, which are hate crimes by Jews against Arab property, while not allocating the same resources for visitors to the Mount of Olives.
“The government seems to have a far greater interest in protecting Muslim and Christian property than Jewish people who are being regularly attacked by terrorists,” he said.
“Why are all the police assigned to the Old City while few are stationed on Har Hazeitim?”