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January 21, 2015 12:08 pm

Outrage on the Mount of Olives

avatar by Moshe Phillips

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Damage at Jerusalem's Mount of Olives cemetery, pictured in 2012. Photo: Amelia Katzen.

The controversy over whether to bury the French terror victims on Jerusalem’s Mount of Olives is a reminder of the embarrassing failure to provide basic security at one of the Jewish people’s most sacred sites.

The Israeli newspaper Israel Hayom reports that when the decision was made to bury the four terror victims in Israel last week, the Israeli authorities suggested they be laid to rest at the Mount of Olives cemetery.

The 3,000 year-old site is the oldest and largest Jewish cemetery in the world. It includes the graves of the biblical prophets Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi; numerous Talmudic and medieval rabbinical sages; the first Chief Rabbi of Eretz Yisrael, HaRav Avraham Yitzhak HaKohen Kook; and contemporary Jewish leaders such as Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin and Hadassah founder Henrietta Szold.

But the families of the Paris victims turned down that suggestion because, as Israel Hayom put it, “Jewish gravestones there are subject to vandalism.”

Who are these “vandals”? Local drunks? Neighborhood kids, goofing around? Frat pledges, out on an initiation rite?

Not quite. They are religious-nationalist Arab Muslims. They knock over Jewish gravestones, draw swastikas, and throw rocks at Jewish visitors to the site. Rocks – which, if they strike the victim in the head, can maim or even kill.

The attackers are, in short, not “vandals.” They’re terrorists. They have terrorized Jewish families into refraining from visiting the cemetery. And now they have terrorized the families of the Paris victims into burying their loved ones elsewhere.

Last Rosh Hashanah, families visiting the burial site of former Knesset Member Rabbi Yitzhak Meir Levine found that his grave and 40 others had been damaged, and surveillance cameras set up at the cemetery had been sabotaged.

Those kinds of large-scale attacks attract media attention. Smaller-scale attacks take place frequently, but are not always publicized.

Last year, the Religious Zionists of America mobilized more than 100 prominent Orthodox rabbis, including the Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi of Israel, to sign a petition urging the authorities  to take “immediate action to safeguard this holy Jewish site and preserve the integrity of undivided Jerusalem, Israel’s eternal capital.”

It’s not exactly a radical demand. Nor is it very difficult to achieve. All it requires is to station some 24-hour armed guards on the premises. In the wake of the recent terrorist attacks, numerous synagogues and yeshivas around the world have hired armed guards. Why can’t the same be done for the oldest Jewish cemetery in the world?

This should not be a controversial position in the Jewish community. Every Jewish group, regardless of religious or political affiliation, should be able to agree on protecting the Mount of Olives. No matter what one thinks about Israel’s borders or settlements or any other issues, we should all be able to unite on this issue – including the leader of the prominent Jewish left-wing group whose late father is buried on the Mount of Olives.

The time for silence is over. The refusal of the Paris families to bury their loved ones on the Mount of Olives should be a wake-up call to the Jewish world to speak out for protection at this sacred site.

Moshe Phillips is president of the Religious Zionists of America, Philadelphia, and a candidate on the Religious Zionist slate ( in the World Zionist Congress elections.

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  • Shalom-Hillel

    I’ve seen what they do. A Muslim will wander over and find a loose stone somewhere, so he breaks it off; then he kicks over a monument, and bit by bit erodes the Jewish presence and the Jewish memory of the place. They do it in packs in a big way and individually in a small way. If they had control over the area they would bulldoze the graves just as they destroyed the Jewish graves in east Jerusalem under Jordanian administration.

  • My husband, Alexander Harold Bell, Harav Tzvi Alexander ben Reuven, Is buried on Har Zeitim. We visit him when we can and my son comes for his yahrtzeit.We always call in advance for police protection which we get with no problem. We all live in the US, so it is not so easy. When I muse to my children that perhaps I should have buried him in a safer place or a place closer to us they all protest. They say it was the right thing to bury him in that holy place. We all pray for him to rest there in PEACE.

  • In his book The Heavenly City, Menachem Gerlitz records how the Arab youth would attack funeral processions in Ottoman Jerusalem, as the processions approached the Mount of Olives. A very strong Russian Jew asked the Chevra Kaddisha to wrap him in shrouds and carry him to the Mount of Olives. When the rocks began to fly the Chevra Kaddisha placed the stretcher on the ground and ran. The Russian Jew in his shrouds then stood up and ran towards the Arab youths who ran like crazy! For some time thereafter they did not attack funeral processions. For the Arabs who claim Jews never lived in Jerusalem and the Temple never stood on the Temple Mount, a 3,000 year old Jewish cemetery in continuous use to this very day, must be an embarrassment.

  • steven L

    Shouldn’t the blame be put squarely on the left initially? This is the same story with the Temple mount!
    Liberals Jews are contributing significantly to the destruction of their heritage!

  • ed halperin

    Thank God, Mr. Lecht pessimistic point of view does not
    prevail. Luckily some Jews are optimistic, stubborn, yet
    not always seeing the glass of wine as not perpetually going on empty.
    It is important to learn not to be a gambler, if you think you will always lose.

  • len

    what we need is a few settlement structures situated on the mount of olives to guard the cemetery ,that will bring the army to guard the settlers which will bring the world media to document and damn their presence and then the cemetary would have enough daily action to keep the vandals away!

    • len

      what we need is a few settlement structures situated on the mount of olives to guard the cemetery ,that will bring the army to guard the settlers which will bring the world media to document and damn their presence and then the cemetery would have enough daily action to keep the vandals away!

  • L. Frederick Kauffman

    A nation…a people…a faith…a community that cannot, or will not, prevent the desecration of its oldest cemetery deserves far worse than that. You people ought to be ashamed of yourselves and your “tolerance” that allows this shit to occur. Whoever is in charge and allows this to happen, may their graves and those of their ancestors and descendants be the first–and the last–to suffer such a fate. Nearly two thousand years of exile has not taught this people self-respect, nor righteous indignation, nor ruthless self-defense. The dodo bird went extinct for a similar reason…

  • Emmett

    Under the BB Nuttenyahoo regime, the abandonment & selling out of Jewish graves & holy sites is par for the course. It is just a sample of his total disregard for Jewish lives, rights, property & the Land of Israel. For BB, the mention or regard for Torah or Commandments only pertains to certain photo-ops accompanied by his false propaganda when it suits him. A crack whore has more morals & integrity than an Israeli politician, particularly that corrupt leftist traitor occupying the PM’s office.

  • Glenn Richter

    Moshe Phillips is absolutely right. Along with other members of a delegation from Americans for a Safe Israel, again visited the cemetery in November. The deliberate vandalization is both heartbreaking. It’s infuriating to see the tepid response of Israeli authorities. A separate issue not addressed in Phillips’ op-ed is the illegal mosque built in the cemetery, right near the graves of luminaries such as Menachem Begin, and in full view.

  • S. Lecht

    Despite all of the bluster, Israel is obviously losing the war with the Palestinians. If it can’t defend its cemeteries, it can’t defend itself. Goodby Israel; it was nice knowing you.

    • L. Frederick Kauffman

      Excellent point: tragic and pathetic, yet right on point.

    • David Levy

      Gloating is ugly.

    • I understand your exasperation but Yisrael will NOT cease to be a nation EVER again. This is not an unsolvable problem. Anywhere there is proof that Yisrael existed millennia ago such as Patriarchal sepulchres the Palestinians seek to destroy them to propagate their “revisionist history.” Their duplicity knows no bounds! After all, Islam advocates deceit–the ends justify the means. Any religion that advocates lying is from the “father of lies satan.” In reality Islam is only about 15% religion and the other 85% is politics (or should I say hate?)

  • Yoel Nitzarim

    The Mount of Olives should be a protected Jewish heritage site, fully devoid of vandalism, terrorist attacks, and any violent act.