Jewish leaders this week asked Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to take further steps to secure Jerusalem’s ancient Mount of Olives (“Har Hazeitim” in Hebrew) cemetery, whose grounds and visitors have been the target of vandalism and attacks by Arabs.
he Jerusalem Development Authority has already installed security cameras and established a permanent police presence at the cemetery, home to 150,000 graves and a number of landmarks for Jews, Christians and Muslims. The cemetery has been in use for 3,000 years.
Leaders of Jewish groups including the Rabbinical Council of America, the National Council of Young Israel, Agudath Israel of America, the Orthodox Union, and the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations wrote a letter to Netanyahu commending the prime minister “for the great strides made by his government to secure and protect the ancient Jewish cemetery—which has increasingly come under attack in recent years with continuous violence against visitors, rampant grave desecration, dumping of refuse and gross defilement of the cemetery by local Arab youths,” the International Committee for the Preservation of Har Hazeitim (ICPHH) said in a press release.
The ICPHH, however, is asking for additional measures such as the deployment of more police and Netanyahu’s support of Knesset legislation “which includes significant punishment for minors committing cemetery-related offenses as well as mandating stiff punishment to address attacks carried out in cemetery perimeter areas, which are directed at visitors to intimidate and/or cause direct bodily harm,” according to the press release.
Conference of Presidents Executive Vice Chairman Malcolm Hoenlein, who personally delivered the ICPHH letter to Netanyahu, told The Jerusalem Post that he believes the prime minister “understands the importance of the issues surrounding Har Hazeitim and the significance of the sensitivities involved concerning the historic site and for the unity of Jerusalem.”
“Even after our imperatives are met and all are free to visit their departed in peace in an appropriate environment befitting this immensely important Jewish cemetery, we will continue to watch over the hallowed ground to assure that violence and vandalism never again plague this place,” ICPHH Chairman Abraham Lubinsky said in a statement.