The International Committee for the Preservation of Har Hazeisim today made public a letter sent to Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu focused on the state of Har Hazeisim, imploring him to further secure access to the ancient cemetery. The burial site is the oldest and largest Jewish cemetery in the world – consisting of 150,000 graves and in continuous use for 3,000 years – where many Jewish leaders dating back to the Nevi’im as well as modern-day Israeli notables have been laid to rest.
The communication commends the Prime Minister for the great strides made by his government to secure and protect the ancient Jewish cemetery – which has increasingly come under attack in recent years with continuous violence against visitors, rampant grave desecrations, dumping of refuse, and gross defilement of the cemetery by local Arab youths. – but the letter also outlines the remaining actions necessary to sustainably safeguard the expansive burial ground.
The letter was signed by an unprecedented group of the leadership of American Jewish organizations. It included such major Orthodox groups as the Rabbinical Council of America, National Council of Young Israel, Agudath Israel of America, and the Orthodox Union. In addition, the letter was signed by Richard Stone, Chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations as well its Executive Vice Chairman Malcolm Hoenlein on behalf of the members of the Conference. Mr. Hoenlein,, who is also an active leader of the ICPHH, personally delivered the letter to the Prime Minister during his organization’s recent mission to Israel.
The Jewish organizations note the marked security improvements initiated by the Prime Minister’s Office and implemented through the Jerusalem Development Authority, such as the installation of security cameras and the establishment of a permanent Police presence which has led to a sharp rise in the number of arrests of violent perpetrators at the Har Hazeisim Cemetery.
Yet the letter also details the ongoing violence directed towards Cemetery visitors along access roads and requests that Netanyahu fully complete security camera installation and the deployment of Police within a wider radius. In addition, the International Committee asks that the Prime Minister support Knesset legislation which includes significant punishment for minors committing Cemetery-related offences as well as mandating stiff punishment to address attacks carried out in cemetery perimeter areas, which are directed at visitors to intimidate and/or cause direct bodily harm.
“The International Committee for the Preservation of Har Hazeitim is committed to returning safety and sanctity to Har Hazeitim,” said American businessman and ICPHH Chairman Abraham Lubinsky. “Even after our imperatives are met and all are free to visit their departed in peace in an appropriate environment befitting this immensely important Jewish cemetery, we will continue to watch over the hallowed ground to assure that violence and vandalism never again plague this place. Only then will generations of Jews buried on Har Hazeitim truly be able to find eternal rest.”
A primary focus of the organization, said Mr. Lubinsky, is to end the “perception of fear” amongst Jews worldwide and to significantly increase tourism to Judaism’s second holiest site.