Israeli President Reuven Rivlin inspected the Afghan section of the cemetery on the Mount of Olives Monday, a site which has seen repeated vandalism and destruction by some of East Jerusalem’s Arab residents.
Rivlin was accompanied by four relatives of people buried in the Afghani section, which is located in a more remote area of the expansive site. Representatives from the Rabbinate, Police and Afghani Jewish community were also present.
At the time of the inspection, 62 graves had recently suffered severe damage from vandalism. While some were strewn with litter, including human excrement, others had been set on fire.
In addition to the horrifying disrespect to the dead, visitors to the graves often come under stone throwing attacks, and other serious assaults.
The president noted that the attacks barely receive coverage in the Israeli press. “In any other place across the world, there would have been a tremendous outcry if such things would occur,” he argued. Rivlin has spent much of his time in office pressing for an end to racism across all sections of Israeli society.
Rivlin, whose family moved to Jerusalem in 1809, said “We have returned to our homeland, yet even during ups and downs, we never abandoned it.” The president was in the area having paid his respects at his parents’ graves nearby.
“It cannot be so that in our state, we are unable to stop such terrible vandalism,” the president remarked solemnly. “We must not despair nor give up, we will never be moved from here,” he vowed.
Yishai hosts ZOA Israel Director Jeff Daube, International Committee for the Preservation of Har HaZeitim (ICPHH) chair Abe Lubinsky, committee volunteer Dr. Paul Rosenstock and Rabbi Mike Feuer.Daube, Lubinsky and Rosenstock discuss the work of the ICPHH, dedicated to stopping the defilement of Judaism’s oldest and holiest cemetery, with more than 150,000 graves. Through neglect on the part of Israeli authorities and acts of anti-Semitism, it has been desecrated and its visitors and mourners attacked.
Then, Yishai is joined by Rabbi Mike Feuer to delve into this week’s Torah portion, Balak, where curses are transformed into blessings. When the military option seemed ineffective, the Moabite King Balak hired the evil prophet and sorcerer Balaam to curse the nation of Israel. However, God blocked their evil plan, but not before warning Balaam through a talking donkey.
The Shayowitz family went up to the Mount of Olives on Monday morning to visit the graves of their father and brother, and were shocked to discover that the gravestones were destroyed.
The Mount of Olives is one of the oldest surviving Jewish cemeteries in the world, going back thousands of years.
Arabs have been repeatedly entering the cemetery, desecrating it and destroying and uprooting gravestones.
This is similar to what the Jordanians did after 1948, when Jordan occupied half of Jerusalem, including this ancient Jewish cemetery. The Jordanians destroyed hundreds of graves, including Jewish graves from around 2500 years ago, and they then used the headstones for construction, floor stones and even in latrines.
The Arabs of today have a strong tradition to keep up – trying to erase Jewish history from the land of Israel.
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בית הקברות בהר הזיתים מתפרש במדרונותיו של הר הזיתים ממרגלותיו שבנחל קדרון ועד פסגתו הצופה על העיר העתיקה והר הבית. קבורה יהודית החלה בו בתקופת בית ראשון. זהו בית הקברות היהודי הקדום בעולם, והגדול בעולם: מעל 100 אלף קברים מתקופות שונות. ובכל פעם מגיע אדם אל חלקה אחרת בהר הגדול והשקט הזה, ומוצא את מצבותיה מחוללות ומנותצות. בכל פעם אנחנו מוצאים כאן ברשת החברתית סרטון שצילם מישהו בפינה אחרת של ההר: דמנו הותר, וגם לשכב בשקט אחרי 120 כבר אי אפשר.והמתים היהודים האלה, שכבר לא יעשו דבר, לא יגיבו, דומים לחיים היהודים ששותקים כשפוגעים במתיהם. אין מי שירדוף אחר הפורעים או כבוד המת. כך כתבה Ortal Shayovitz. הבוקר אביה ואחיה עלו לקבר של סבתה ז״ל וזה מה שראו שם. נשבר הלב.Posted by אמילי עמרוסי on Sunday, June 28, 2015
Vandalism and garbage throwing is not a new phenomenon at the most ancient Jewish cemetery on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem. Amid the thousands of tombstones, some of which have been defaced or smashed into pieces, there are areas full of trash and litter left by local Palestinian youth from neighborhoods nearby.
One woman in particular is extremely agitated by the current situation.
Mirella Petteni Haggiag, a former Italian model from Rome, makes her way through the tombstones with a garbage bag in her hand several times of year when she visits Israel. She comes ready to clean around the tombstone of her late husband, Robert Haggiag, the legendary Italian-American film producer.
“This is a holy place. It’s shocking to see what happens here” Mirella Haggiag told Tazpit News Agency in an exclusive interview recently. “The Arabs hold parties and leave behind a mess. For the past five years, I come here and clean up.” “I want this place to be perfect for my husband, may he rest in peace. But look at all this,” says Mirella Haggiag, picking up the garbage and red coke cans strewn around. “These must be the result of parties. It’s not nice.”
Because Mirella lives in Rome, she also sends someone to clean Robert Haggiag’s gravestone or one of their children when she cannot be in Jerusalem. “This isn’t actually as bad as other parts of the cemetery,” she comments. “Over there, you can see the graves have been burnt and some completely smashed up,” she says, pointing to the section where the Afghanistan Jewish community is located. “They haven’t been able to destroy my husband’s tomb,” she told Tazpit.
“My husband would have been 102 years old today. I can’t imagine what he would say about this. People need to know what is happening to this cemetery,” she says.
Her husband’s life is a one fascinating story among the many notable personalities and famous figures in Jewish history buried on the Mount of Olives.
A famous film producer, Robert Haggiag co-produced and distributed more than 50 films, achieving international success with such films as Moulin Rouge, the Barefoot Contessa (1954) starring Humphrey Bogart and Ava Gardner, and Anthony Mann’s El Cid (1961), with Sophia Loren and Charlton Heston, among many others. He earned the Italy’s prestigious David di Donatello award and the Palme d’Or at France’s Cannes Film Festival in 1965.
Robert was born Nessim Haggiag in 1913 in Tripoli, Libya and came from a Sephardic Jewish family of nine children. He studied at the University of Turin and eventually came to own many properties and movie theaters in Tripoli. However, during WWII, he was forced to abandon everything, and escaped as a war refugee to America with nothing. According to his obituary in the Telegraph, all that Haggiag owned was confiscated by the new Islamic social state.
In the late 1960’s, Robert Haggiag co-founded the largest film distributor company in Italy, with exclusive rights granted to Warner Brothers, Twentieth Century-Fox and other American studios. Later in life, he helped co-produce with his son the Lady Chatterley TV series for the BBC.
Haggiag passed away in 2009 at the age of 95 and is survived by Mirella, their two sons and a stepson.
To this day, the Haggiag family continues to maintain a strong connection with Jerusalem. This year, as in the past, the Haggiag Family Award for Israeli Cinema in memory of Robert Nessim Haggiag will be given during the upcoming Jerusalem Film Festival in July.
“My husband always wanted to be buried here in the Mount of Olives,” Mirella Haggiag told Tazpit. “And there is a family plot for myself and our children. But it’s quite depressing – I want to look for another burial place for myself. Who will clean up after I’m gone?” she asks.
Yochanan Gol looks at his uncle’s tombstone in dismay. A huge black burnt circle marks his grave, remnants of a torching that has blacked out the date of his birth and passing. “This is the new tombstone that I had just purchased to replace the original that they smashed into bits,” he explained in an interview with Tazpit News Agency last week.
Gol’s uncle’s grave is among the dozen or so that have been defaced – either shattered or blackened by fire – in attacks on the Afghan Jewish section of the Mount of Olives cemetery by Palestinians from local neighborhoods nearby. Plastic bags full of garbage and baby diapers can also be seen on the tombstones.
“Despite the attacks on the cemetery, my 89-year-old uncle wanted to be buried here,” said Gol. Gol’s uncle, Yitzhak made aliyah with the rest of the Gol family to Israel from Herat, Afghanistan in 1957. “He wanted to be near his grandparents and his sister, who are also buried here.”
Less than a month after Gol’s uncle was buried on the Mount of Olives in April, his tombstone had been demolished.
After the vandalism occurred, Gol figured that the next tombstone had to be built in a way that would adapt to the circumstances. “We had the second tombstone built much closer to the ground and made sure that there weren’t any hollow areas between the marble stone and the ground. We also used thicker marble – that way it couldn’t be smashed,” he explains. “But they found another way to destroy the new one – by burning it.”
“I’ve been living here for 19 years on the Mount of Olives and these attacks are ongoing,” said Jerusalem city council member, Aryeh King to Tazpit News Agency. “This current attack is one of the worst that I’ve seen on this cemetery,” he said.
The Afghanistan Jewish section is the most heavily targeted burial ground in of all the Mount of Olives, according to King. “If anything like this happened to a Jewish cemetery elsewhere in the world, in Poland, Rome, or Paris, that would make headlines – but here it has become something regular, usual.”
The Mount of Olives is the oldest Jewish cemetery in the world, with 150,000 to 200,000 graves that include ancient prophets, state leaders, revered rabbis, among other important figures and simple folk. They are buried in the different plots according to different origins that include Yemenite, North African, Persian, Babylonian, Georgian, Galicia, Ashkenazi, Hassidic, and others. For 3,000 years, the Mount of Olives has been the preferred site for burial because Jewish tradition dictates that the resurrection process during the Messianic days will take place on the mount.
King David’s son, Absalom is buried there as well as the prophets, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi from Biblical times.
Jewish organizations bought the Afghan plot before 1948 according to Yochanan Gol, who is also a licensed tour guide. But the burial of Afghanistan Jews in the section owned by the Afghan Jewish Committee only took place after the Six Day War in 1967. “Since then, there’s been a history of destruction here,” Gol said. “It’s unbelievable that this happens in our own capital and country.”
However, under Jordanian rule, the destruction was much worse – massive and systematic desecration of the tombstones took place from 1948-1967. The Jordanians erected a gas station on the ancient graves and also attempted to pave a road through the cemeteries. Some of the tombstones were used as paving stones for Jordanian army camps and a new hotel. By 1967, around 38,000 tombstones had been smashed or damaged. Under Israeli rule, large sections of the cemetery have been rehabilitated and restored.
Moreover, Gol has not only had to deal with his uncle’s tombstone defacement but also with threats to his own security when travelling to the Mount of Olives. “Two weeks after the first visit to the tomb, we came again and some Arabs attacked me and my nephew. My vehicle was hit with stones and bottles and my car destroyed completely. We were lucky that we weren’t in the car at the time. I called the police and they chased after the perpetrators but couldn’t catch them.”
Indeed, visitors coming to pay respects to their loved ones often request security escorts provided by Israel’s Ministry of Housing and Construction during visits to the Mount of Olives. In addition to the tombstone vandalism, stone-throwing at cars and other attacks during funerals have been frequent occurrences over the years.
Following the continued tombstone vandalism and rock-throwing incidents, members of Israel’s Knesset last week called for stronger security measures throughout the mount.
“There is no law, no police,” said King. “This is the Wild West, or the Wild East and it has to stop.”