In its first key public forum, the International Committee for the Preservation of Har Hazeitim (Mount of Olives Cemetery) held a major public event Saturday at the Jerusalem Great Synagogue under the banner of “Reclaiming Our Abandoned Ancestors.”
The Committee’s expressed goal is to dramatically improve the current situation of the historic burial ground which has been "racked by rampant desecrations, violence directed at visitors and general neglect."
The Committee unveiled a list of urgent action demands spelling out key changes on the ground to ensure the safety and sanctity of the famous Jewish cemetery. In front of an audience of close to 1,000 people, Knesset Member Danny Danon (Likud), community leader Adv. David Martin and moderator Ruthie Blum Leibowitz explored the current state of the cemetery and its significance in Jewish history as well as what is needed to rehabilitate the site.
“The continuous deterioration and unmanageable situation occurring at the Mount of Olives is crying out for Israel
and world Jewry to take constructive action to yield positive, sustained results,” said New York businessman Avraham Lubinsky, the founding chairman of ICPHH.
“It is a completely unacceptable situation when families visiting the graves of loved ones do so in fear of stonings and other violent attacks.”
MK Danon told those on hand, “At present, there is a need to call ahead for a security escort prior to visiting Har Hazeitim to ensure the safety of visitors to the site. This is not acceptable in Israel in 2010.
"What is lacking is one minister with both the mandate and the power to protect the Mount of Olives Cemetery and who will achieve meaningful change,” he added.
The Committee includes representatives of major Jewish organizations including Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.
The historic cemetery, known in Hebrew as Har Hazeitim, overlooks Jerusalem’s Old City and is home to graves traditionally associated with Biblical figures as well as modern-day Israeli legends including Prime Minister Menachem Begin and reviver of modern Hebrew Eliezer Ben-Yehuda.
The Mount of Olives has been used as a Jewish cemetery for over 3,000 years and is comprised of approximately 150,000 graves. The site is also holy to Christians and there are numerous churches in the vicinity.
"In recent years, the cemetery has fallen into a state of general neglect and disrepair, with local Arab villagers driving across it to take shortcuts and sometimes attacking Jewish visitors to the graves," ICPHH said.