Isaac Gul died at the age of 89 on the Sabbath before Passover. Born in Afghanistan, "he loved his country" his nephew Yochanan said. "He joined the army, fought bravely during the Six Day War, lived alone, and before he died he had only one request: to be buried on the Mount of Olives."I asked Mayor Barkat about this a couple of years ago and he assured me that things were safe.
Two weeks ago, when his nephew came to the Mount of Olives to fill the request of his uncle, he was attacked by a group of Arab rioters with stones and bottles. Windshields were smashed. Gul was miraculously saved. This week, when going to unveil the gravestone thirty days since the death, he was shocked at what he saw. "Everything was destroyed, and there is no gravestone," he said, weeping.
Following this short interview I went the next day on a tour of the Mount with the Jerusalem city council member, Aryeh King. Not to find something I didn't know. To see it with my own eyes. This tour is a must for anyone who wants to understand the incompetence of the State of Israel with the Arab enemy. Not in Iran. Here, at home.
A few hundred meters from the Western Wall, a stone's throw from the Knesset, the Supreme Court and in the middle of the pulsating capital of Israel, the State chose to give up.
Who wants to visit loved ones on the mountain cemetery while risking getting hurt by stones, Molotov cocktails or being lynched by students in local schools. Those who come in will see neglect, dirt, vandalism and countless pictures, each of which, had it occured in a Jewish cemetery in Europe, would be headline news.
Many families prefer, fearing for their safety, not to visit the graves of loved ones any more. A close friend told me about an elderly relative he had who owned a plot at the Mount, and with her death, the family decided to bury her elsewhere. "We had a great fear that whoever comes to visit the place would risk his life," he explained, "or simply nobody will visit the grave".
The cemetery on the Mount of Olives, unique in its essential purpose, is also a piece of history in Israel. According to estimates, more than one hundred thousand Jews are buried there, including rabbis, leaders and cultural figures, intellectuals and men of action. Rabbi Ovadia Bartenura and Rabbi Haim Ben Attar. Eliezer Ben-Yehuda and his son Itamar Ben Avi. Rabbi Avraham Yitzhak Hacohen Kook and Rabbi Isaac Herzog. Yoel Moshe Salomon and the poet Zelda. Henrietta Szold and Zalman Aran. Menachem Begin, Agnon and Uri Zvi Greenberg. Meir Feinstein and Moshe Barazani. The Jewish Quarter fell in battle in the War of Independence and fighters wanted to be buried in this special place.
In many cases, intensive illegal Arabic construction comes to within a couple of meters from the graves themselves. Access to burial plots requires maneuvering between crowded houses of Arab neighborhoods. "Look at all this," King points to a huge compound on the eastern slope of the cemetery. "Go and check the Jerusalem municipality approved master plan, and you will see that all this land is part of the cemetery. You'll find that much of the land occupied here by Arabs is wholly owned by Jews who bought them years ago. "
"Landowners lost their land, and have no ability to do anything," King continues. "The Arabs have taken it all. Almost all of the area's huge building boom occurred in the last 15 years. You can seeee it in the pictures. They build illegally on lands that are part of the cemetery, the land of individual Jewish people, and people do not mess with them."
Not far from us, adjacent to one of the plots, stand two large buildings, 18 apartments in each building. One is already populated. The construction of the second was recently completed. No one is stopping this illegal construction on land that does not belong to them. "You see this mosque", King points out, "it's one of the first buildings that were built here. There is a directive from the municipality's legal adviser that this mosque is a sensitive matter, so you do not destroy mosques. So the mosque remained in place, and what grew around it you see yourself ".
Until recently there were security cameras on poles. Vandals toppled the poles, broke the cameras, and destroyed in ten minutes the entire security system.
Dozens of graves, almost all of those who died in past 30-40 years, are broken and shattered. The tomb of Mordechai Siman-Tov, was opened and filled with waste. A tire was put next to it and set on fire. A nearby gravestone holds is smashed into four large fragments. The last name of Esther is impossible to identify. By the writing that is still intact you can only learn she was "modest woman".
The grave of "our father Yekusiel", what's left of it does not allow us to know which family he belonged. "Women who fear the Lord have much to be praised," according to what remains from the grave of Miriam, daughter of Nathaniel and Rachel. This tomb also had its headstone removed and thrown to the ground. A few meters away lies a pile of broken gravestones some of which are difficult to identify from which grave they were removed. So they lie like a wave of stones, shattered pieces from the stones of Murdoch and Aaron Cohen and Leah Moshaioff Bruriah and Simcha Cohen and many others. A word here, a half word there, letters floating in the air.
I searched on Google this week for reports that appear occasionally on Jewish cemeteries desecrated worldwide. Anti-Semitic rioters vandalized a Jewish cemetery in Morocco. Tombstones were broken and uprooted in a Jewish cemetery in southern New Zealand, a headline from a few weeks earlier. Swastikas painted on the walls of the cemetery in Larissa, Greece. Trees were felled at a Jewish burial place in Chisinau in Moldova. For some reason, when these events occur in the wider world, it shocks us much more. Then we hear of "anti-Semitism rearing its head again," Israeli politicians call for stopping the vandals, and an expert on the history of the Second World War duly shows up to answer the question if Europe isi returning to its past.
And what about us? We are the only country where anti-Semitic actions are not newsworthy. A country where anti-Arab graffiti is a story that draws attention a thousand times greater than desecration of Israel's capital everyday. We worry about antisemitism in Hungary, but with us? We are afraid to speak loudly against it.
The Mount of Olives cemetery is perhaps the only one in Israel that is wide open, in the full sense of the word, around the clock. On the Ras Al-amod there was once placed in a large iron gate, but anyone who wanted to use the path between graves, pulled it up long ago. Currently, the cemetery serves as a shortcut for the Arab residents who want to reach their homes.
Six months ago the Arabs here have desecrated the grave of Rabbi Meir Levin Itcha. Levin, a former leader of Agudath Israel, Minister of Welfare was Israel's first signer of the Declaration of Independence. The grave was broken and open. This week I tried to remember if I heard about this event at the time. I could not.
"38 years ago we started to arrange transportation from the school of Gore Mount of Olives, back and forth all day, free," says David Leventhal, who took over the responsibility for a section. "A lot of people wanted to go to the graves. In recent years, the passenger vehicle is almost empty. No one dares to come. They are attacked." Leventhal tries hard to preserve the place. "The Arabs smashed the graves. They now have a new method. They put a tire or a mattress, light it or throw a Molotov cocktail and run away....I've installed security cameras, and they broke them all. "
Nothing I have written here is new. These acts take place every day. Within the cemetery and beyond. I went through the list of recent attacks this week. Not a day goes by without a few incidents of stone throwing or Molotov cocktails. Sometimes the Jews escape lynching.
I debated whether to ask for a comment from someone for this article, and I decided there was no point. Police say it was the municipality, the municipality will approach the Ministry of Religious Affairs, Ministry of Religious Affairs will say it belongs to the Minister for Jerusalem Affairs, the latter will explain a comprehensive policy is needed, and is responsible for overall policy now busy forming the government. The Prime Minister will continue to talk about a united Jerusalem which is our capital forever. The mayor of Jerusalem he will continue to emphasize that he is the mayor of Jerusalem in all its parts. The President continue to bless us with Good Morning Jerusalem , and no one could refute the bottom line. The State of Israel, through the Government of Israel is not interested in truly being sovereign in Jerusalem.
I have a number of relatives buried in the Mount of Olives, including two grandparents and a great-great-grandfather whose gravestone was smashed during Jordanian occupation.
This is scandalous.