Latest update: April 16th, 2012
A milestone for the safety and security for Mount of Olives residents, tourists, and graves has arrived in the form of a new police station atop the historic peak.
Just below the Rehavam Zeevi Lookout Point next to the Seven Arches Hotel (formerly known as the Intercontinental) two brand new trailer homes have been placed and converted into a facility that will house up to 24 police personnel at any given time.
The view from the station is dramatic as it overlooks the ancient cemetery, the walls of the Old City, and the Golden Dome atop the Temple Mount. But the police, and lobby groups like the Committee for the Preservation of Har HaZeitim, hope that the new police presence will be especially visible to the criminals who have been responsible for the uptick in violence in and around the Mount of Olives.
Captain Dudi Chayun is the commander of the Tachanat Shalem police station across from the the Old City’s Flower Gate. Now, he is also taking charge of the new facility on the Mount of Olives. I met him there as he was dismounting a police horse. He told me that he occasionally tours the region under his command on horseback to get a closer look at what’s going on.
According to Chayun the new facility is really a sub-station whose purpose is to create continuity, a regular beat, between Mt. Scopus to the north and the Mt. of Olives to the south. The main artery that connects these two points is ridgeback road atop the Mt. of Olives which passes through the Arab neighborhood of A-Tur.
Of late A-Tur has become violent. Rocks have been thrown at Jewish drivers heading to the Mt. of Olives lookout, and seven cars belonging to the small Jewish community nearby have been burned. Grave desecration, is also part of toxic mix. But Captain Chayun is confident that the added police presence will help reverse the negative trends.
In the last week, a sting operation took place where an undercover officer, dressed as an Orthodox Jew, drove through A-Tur and was pelted with stones by two youths. They were promptly arrested, and admitted the act under interrogation. Captain Chayun hopes they will be prosecuted.
The new station, at a cost of 1.2 million NIS, will have a permanent detective on premises, 3 patrol cars, and is slated to monitor the 137 cameras in and around the Mount of Olives Cemetery. The police have also begun an effort of community outreach: a meeting between the police and the Muchtarim (village elders) of A-Tur is scheduled for later this week. According to Captian Chayun: “The Arab residents will also benefit from the added services the station will provide.”
Harvey Schwartz, Chairman of the Israeli Steering Committee of International Committee for the Preservation of Har HaZeitim,was pleased with the stronger police presence which the committee has been fighting for. Harvey told me: “We have worked very hard for a long time, especially Abe and Menachem Lubinsky of Brooklyn, who have put in endless hours, days, and trips to Israel for the sole purpose of seeing the rehabilitation of Har HaZeitim, so that it should ultimately get the respect and treatment that it deserves. We consider this [Police station] to be an extremely significant development.”
Jeff Daube, the Israel director of the Zionist Organization of America, and co-chair of the International Committee, told me that erecting a new station took a multifaceted effort, including talking with the American State Department: “My office went over to Congress and the State Department and we let them know there was a significant number of Americans visiting the Mount of Olives cemetery who were subject to violence, stonings and harassment; that Americans were coming here and finding the graves of their loved ones desecrated and vandalized. We emphasized to U.S. leadership that their constituents, American voters, are being affected by this.”
Under the 19 year Jordanian occupation of these parts, from 1948-1967, no Jews were allowed on the Mount of Olives. In this period, forty-thousand graves were destroyed, with many headstones used as building material. The police and Har HaZeitim activists hope that the renewed Jewish presence on the mount, along with vigorous efforts for preservation and stronger security, will ensure that the dead and the living can rest easy.
About the Author: Yishai Fleisher is the Contributing Editor and PR manager at the JewishPress.com, and Israel's only English language broadcast radio show host (Galey Yisrael 106.5FM). Yishai is an Israeli Paratrooper, a graduate of Cardozo Law School, and the founder of Kumah ("Arise" in Hebrew), an NGO dedicated to promoting Zionism and strengthening Israel's national character. Yishai is married to Malkah, they have two children, and they live on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem.
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