Mt. of Olives police post failing to allay fears

Reporter's Notebook: Some taxi drivers refuse to go up capital's Mount of Olives without security escort for fear of rock throwing.

MK Danny Danon and Chief Supt David Hayon Mt of Olives 370 (photo credit: Melanie Lidman)
MK Danny Danon and Chief Supt David Hayon Mt of Olives 370
(photo credit: Melanie Lidman)
“I can’t take you to the Mount of Olives, it’s 10:15 a.m.!” I threw up my hands in exasperation when the third taxi driver in a row refused to take me to the new police post on the mount.
“Fine,” I told him. “Take me to the Hebrew University and I’ll walk from there.”
Activist organizations have cited an increase in stone-throwing attacks against Jewish vehicles trying to get to the cemetery on the capital’s Mount of Olives in the past year, but never was this fact more visible than on Wednesday morning when I couldn’t find a cab to take me to... a police station.
“You have to understand, at 10:30 a.m. the students at the boys’ school will go out for recess and they’ll just throw stones at us for fun,” the driver explained apologetically as we headed toward the university.
The elementary school, located near the main entrance to the cemetery, has been the site of frequent stone-throwing attacks, so I could understand his hesitation. A new police station won’t change the situation overnight, he told me.
He drove me as far as Augusta Victoria Hospital, after which I hurried by foot for 20 minutes down the main street of a-Tur towards the Rehavim Overlook and the Seven Arches Hotel.
I was attempting to join Deputy Knesset Speaker Danny Danon (Likud), head of the Immigration Absorption and Diaspora Affairs Committee on the tour of the police post. The Mount of Olives post, which has 24 full-time officers, opened last week in response to increasing desecration of graves and stoning attacks against visitors and mourners trying to visit the ancient Jewish cemetery.
The new post was announced just four months ago. It is a branch of the Shalem police district, the headquarters of which are on Salah a-Din Street in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood.
The post, which will be open 24 hours a day, also received four new police cruisers and a small all-terrain vehicle that can navigate the narrow and steep paths in the cemetery.
Ch.-Supt. David Hayon, commander of the Shalem District, said the post’s presence means tourists and mourners who are attacked can immediately file complaints. The “massive presence” of police officers on the Mount of Olives, in addition to regular patrols by border police, will lead to a decrease in violent incidents, he said.
But Hayon’s optimism clearly hasn’t filtered down to the taxi drivers, who refuse to go anywhere near the Mount of Olives.
“I only take families there who want to visit graves if I have a security escort,” Yosef, the taxi driver, told me. Anyone who wants a security escort to the cemetery from the Hebrew University should get in touch with the Construction and Housing Ministry, which oversees the private security contracts in east Jerusalem.
Michael Marsh, a representative of the ministry, said during the tour that each day guards make 60 to 70 escort trips to protect people visiting graves from stone-throwers.
The ministry also oversees the 122 security cameras on the Mount of Olives aimed at halting the rampant grave desecration and will install an additional 13 cameras over the next two months. These cameras, which reach all the way down to the Garden of Gethsemane, will soon be connected to the police station, though they currently operate independently.
On Jerusalem Day, which falls this year on May 20, when the capital is expected to receive a large “Defense of Jerusalem” grant from the Knesset, NIS 20 million of the grant will be dedicated to developing and protecting the Mount of Olives over the next five years.
Danon acknowledged that, given my experiences with taxi drivers, it would take a while to change the public perception of the area.
“This is a symptom of the lack of security on the mount,” he told me. “[It will continue] until there is a serious presence, not just of police, but also of the public.”
Danon said the future of the Mount of Olives depends on bringing in school groups and tourists, making it a major tourist attraction. He compared the site to the City of David Archeology Park, which was once considered so dangerous that no one would park their cars there.
With the influx of students and tourists, the security situation changed.
“The challenge is to bring people here to the graves. The moment there’s a mass of people here it will be different,” Danon said.
Tell that to the taxi drivers, I told him.
“Well,” he asked, “can we at least give you a lift back?”