Protecting the Mount of Olives

A state which aspires to keep its capital undivided must be capable of stopping the rampant anarchy and abandon on the Mount of Olives.

Vandalism at the Mount of Olives 311 (photo credit: Video obtained by the International Committee for )
Vandalism at the Mount of Olives 311
(photo credit: Video obtained by the International Committee for )
It’s a sad testament to an even sadder state of affairs that Diaspora Jews feel obliged to take action to preserve the Mount of Olives (Har Hazeitim) cemetery, while successive Israeli governments serially fail to stem lawlessness, vandalism and neglect there.
Last Friday, executive vice president of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations Malcolm Hoenlein visited the cemetery with US Congressmen Eliot Engel (D-New York) and Jerrold Nadler (D-New York). As they inspected the clearly visible damage, a large rock was hurled at them.
On Monday, Hoenlein and other American Jewish leaders, all members of the International Committee for the Preservation of Har Hazeitim (ICPHH), appeared in the Knesset to plead for tighter security at what is the Jewish people’s most ancient burial ground -the final resting place to a veritable pantheon of religious, spiritual, cultural and national paragons (including even Biblical prophets Zeharia, Hagai and Malachi).
This incomparable site is systematically targeted by its Arab neighbors, who regularly desecrate it and attack mourners and visitors.
The authorities lack no excuses for this shamefully ongoing outrage. Jerusalem Police spokesman Shmuel Ben-Ruby promised on Tuesday that “next month a police post will be inaugurated at the mount. The presence of officers should constitute a deterrent.”
The opening of the station, however, is already behind schedule. This fact beggars the imagination, considering what’s at stake.
Ben-Ruby claimed that automatic cameras installed in the cemetery have increased the number of arrests. That may be so, but the improvement is hard to discern on the ground and the coverage of electronic surveillance equipment is by no means as full as it should be. The brazen defilement at the mount and the interminable onslaughts on members of the public who venture there haven’t appreciably subsided.
Back in 2010, State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss excoriated the enduring neglect by many governments: “Repair work proceeds at a snail’s pace, maintenance standards are inadequate, security is sorely lacking and vandalism and criminal acts continue unabated, accentuating the danger that funds and labor already invested at the site will go down the drain.”
Many words and several years later, little appears to have changed. The government, Knesset committees and Jerusalem’s municipality recurrently announce impressive renovation projects to rebuild, record and map thousands of destroyed graves. The results fail to match the hype.
Vandals still smear human feces on tombs and deluge them with household rubbish and construction debris.
Markers are daubed in tar and paint. Hate graffiti are scrawled and gravestones are hammered and shattered.
Nocturnal devastation is accompanied by daytime assaults. Mourners fear going there. Vehicles are habitually stoned from the yard of a nearby Arab school in an especially eerie expression of enmity.
Inconceivably, there’s no respite from the deliberate predations on the mountain slopes where Jews have been interring their dead for over 3,000 years.
Its proximity to the Temple Mount, as well as the traditional proscription against burials within Jerusalem’s walls, made the Mount of Olives hallowed already in First Temple days.
The chain continued unbroken, save for 19 years of Jordanian occupation (1948-67), during which the cemetery was callously despoiled in barefaced breach of the Hashemite Kingdom’s undertakings to safeguard holy places. The destruction was unbridled and premeditated. Ancient tombstones were ripped out and used as latrine floors, urinal walls and pavement stones. The Intercontinental Hotel and Jericho Road were constructed over ancient graves. Garbage was routinely dumped on the tombs.
Post-liberation, prominent Israelis such as former prime minister Menachem Begin, Nobel laureate author Shai Agnon, poet Uri Zvi Greenberg, and Rabbis Shlomo Goren and Zvi Yehuda Kook asked to be laid to rest there. Nevertheless, this guaranteed no minimal upkeep or security for what is a cemetery of unmatched historical continuity and significance anywhere in the world.
Had a minuscule proportion of such aggression occurred at Jewish cemeteries abroad, Israel would have expectedly lodged formal complaints and demanded practical protection. The time has come to practice what we preach.
A state which aspires to keep its capital undivided must surely be capable of stopping the rampant anarchy and abandon on the Mount of Olives.