It was, to say the least, a disturbing sight on a bright Sunday morning the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem. As I turned to say Kaddish [mourner's prayer] marking the yahrzeit [day of passing] of my father (Harav Chaim Pinchas Lubinsky zt”l), I faced an entire row of destroyed kevorim [graves], apparently by boulders hurled from above. The scene on a level just above where my parents lie was one of more destruction, including hollow grave sites with their matzeivos [tomb stones] strewn about. Although the area was repeatedly targeted by Arab hooligans, it is the first time that it came so close to the graves of my parents. Turning away from the kevarim were Arab houses, one with a newly posted flag of Hamas. (I learned later that Hamas was on a flag campaign in East Jerusalem.) In fact, during an earlier tour of nearby Arab neighborhoods with Ateret Kohanim, some of it in an armored jeep, I noticed several Hamas flags, perhaps on par with the number of Palestinian flags.
The destruction that had apparently occurred a month or so ago, explained the officials that I subsequently met with, was because there was still no coverage by the rapidly growing number of surveillance cameras being installed on the Mount of Olives, thanks to the efforts of the International Committee for Har Hazeitim [the Mount of Olives], headed by its founder Avrohom Lubinsky (my brother). While some 80 of a planned 137 cameras were already in place, 60 were functioning with the others still undergoing tests. Officials promised that within a few weeks some of the additional cameras would be installed on the Kollel Polen section as well as the area that includes the maareh [cave] where three rabbeyim of Ger lie, also frequently targeted by Arabs.
In the newly built fortified command center with its high tech monitors, three security agents monitor the screens 24/7 for any signs of abnormal activity. Just last week, the camera captured an Arab in his late 20’s sitting on a step and conversing on a cellphone. He soon rose, moved over to a nearby grave, and labored to push a headstone to a nearby valley where it shattered in pieces. Obviously preparing for his next act of wanton destruction, the security people in the monitoring station summoned the Mount of Olives security team who within minutes pounced on the thug, holding him until police arrived. In early December, he was sentenced to 3 months in prison. What was perhaps most disturbing is that he told investigators that he was paid NIS 1000 by the handler with whom he had apparently been conversing prior to perpetrating his act. The police were ostensibly investigating who the handlers were.
As I toured the Mount of Olives, I found some areas completely covered by many cameras while other areas like the Kollel Polen section were only sparsely covered. While officials promised additional cameras, it is unclear that even after all the cameras are installed that the huge sprawling mountain would be entirely covered, but officials guessed that more than 75% would be seen by the cameras. Significantly some of the new cameras that are installed are advanced models with day and night infrared capabilities and others are thermal cameras that detect body heat.
An important piece of the security puzzle will be filled in when a police garrison finally begins functioning on the Mount of Olives in addition to the small private security force that these days provides mostly escort services to visitors and mourners. The committee is working with officials on details of such a deployment that includes both short-term and long-term logistical planning.
The no-nonsense policy pursued by the incoming new police leadership in Jerusalem, headed by Niso Shaham, will hopefully have a positive effect on security on the Mount of Olives as well. Police are dealing harshly with any signs of disturbances in neighboring A-Tor, Silwan, and Ras al Amud, significantly reducing violence in the area. This is significant since it will mean better security for those visiting the Mount of Olives. Avrohom and members of the committee feel that they have turned the corner on security but make no secret of the many challenges that still lie ahead.
15,000 Graves Restored; 60,000 to Go
In the Kidron Valley, not too far from Yad Avsholom, tractors were busy clearing debris from large areas, under the close supervision of Gadi, a private frum contractor hired to supervise the effort, and assisted by the Chevra Kadisha. Using maps from the Chevra Kadishas that go back to the early 20th century (and perhaps well before that), Gadi’s team does the painstaking work by hand of clearing every kever [tomb]. If a partial matzeivoh [tomb stone] is by chance found, an effort is made to complete the matzeivah. Most of the matzeivahs were used to build the roads leading to the Inter-Continental Hotel built by the Hashemitte Kingdom in the 1950’s. Instead of honoring the 1948 Armistice they signed allowing access to the cemetery, they perpetrated the largest mass destruction of graves in history without ever compensating the families or the Chevra Kadisha to rehabilitate those graves. What Gadi tells me next is most shocking. “I believe that there are still 60,000 more graves that have to be rehabilitated,” he says. If he is correct, it would mean that the Jordanians destroyed 75,000 graves, a number impossible to imagine and probably unprecedented in history, including the Nazi period.