Jerusalem Chief Rabbi: Israel Planning ‘Large Security Barrier’ to Protect Mount of Olives (INTERVIEW)
Jerusalem Chief Rabbi Aryeh Stern said on Monday that Israel was planning to build a “large security barrier” around the holy city’s historic Mount of Olives cemetery to prevent the further desecration of Jewish graves by vandals.
The Jerusalem chief rabbi criticized the media for its knee-jerk reactions to Jewish acts of vandalism against Arab property, but ignoring the desecration of Jewish graves by Arab vandals.
“When the Arabs defile the graves at the Mount of Olives, that’s not news,” Stern said.
He noted that the Arab neighborhoods that largely encircle the cemetery were making it difficult for Israel to properly address the situation. Even if a barrier is built, “the Arabs … are still inside, so it’s not so simple,” he said, adding, “But the security forces have solved bigger problems before.”
Israel’s Religious Services Ministry recently announced it was planning to double the security budget for the site, according to Israeli Arutz 7 news. Religious Affairs Ministry CEO Oded Fluss has said the desecration of Jewish graves on the Mount of Olives was being carried out systematically. Over the last 14 days alone, some 90 have been desecrated, according to Arutz 7.
Stern — who was elected chief rabbi in October last year — also discussed Jewish access at the Temple Mount, which has been a source of contention between Arab Muslims and Jews. The mount is Judaism’s holiest site, and one of the holiest in Islam as well.
Stern insisted Jews have full access to the area and said “it is forbidden” to deny Jews the right to enter, though he declined to say whether Jews should have the right to pray on the Temple Mount, saying that issue was a “political” one.
According to the International Crisis Group, which published a report on the Temple Mount on Tuesday after speaking to Israeli, Jordanian and Palestinian officials, 2015 has been a relatively calmer year at the Temple Mount. The group said “the religious salience of and political contestation around the [Temple Mount] Esplanade, especially among Jews but also Muslims, has been increasing for two decades.”
The group blamed “Jewish Temple activism,” by which the report means Jews seeking to worship at the Temple Mount, for eroding “the status quo arrangement that has mostly kept the peace since Israel captured East Jerusalem in 1967.”
“Any further slippage must be prevented and the status quo braced,” said the report, which encouraged access for all groups, but discouraged “unilateral change in the prayer regime,” a move it said would be “explosive.”
Also on Tuesday, Haaretz reported that Israel and Jordan have been secretly conducting negotiations to allow access to the Temple Mount as a tourist site, which could become a financial incentive to keep the peace. Israel — which is responsible for security at the Temple Mount — denied the report.