By Moshe Phillips
The controversy over whether to bury the French terror victims on Jerusalem’s Mount of Olives is a reminder of the embarrassing failure to provide basic security at one of the Jewish people’s most sacred sites.
The Israeli newspaper Israel Hayom reports that when the decision was made to bury the four terror victims in Israel last week, the Israeli authorities suggested they be laid to rest at the Mount of Olives cemetery.
The 3,000 year-old site is the oldest and largest Jewish cemetery in the world. It includes the graves of the biblical prophets Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi; numerous Talmudic and medieval rabbinical sages; the first Chief Rabbi of Eretz Yisrael, HaRav Avraham Yitzhak HaKohen Kook, and contemporary Jewish leaders such as Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin and Hadassah founder Henrietta Szold.
But the families of the Paris victims turned down that suggestion because, as Israel Hayom put it, “Jewish gravestones there are subject to vandalism.”
Who are these “vandals”? Local drunks? Neighborhood kids, goofing around? Frat pledges, out on an initiation rite?
Not quite. They are religious-nationalist Arab Muslims. They knock over Jewish gravestones, daub swastikas, and throw rocks at Jewish visitors to the site. Rocks — which, if they strike the victim in the head, can maim or even kill.
The attackers are, in short, not “vandals.” They’re terrorists. They have terrorized Jewish families into refraining from visiting the cemetery. And now they terrorized the families of the Paris victims into burying their loved ones elsewhere.
Last Rosh Hashanah, families visiting the burial site of former Knesset Member Rabbi Yitzhak Meir Levine found that his grave and 40 others had been damaged, and surveillance cameras set up at the cemetery had been sabotaged.
Those kinds of large-scale attacks attract media attention. Smaller-scale attacks take place frequently, but are not always publicized.
Last year, the Religious Zionists of America mobilized more than 100 prominent Orthodox rabbis, including the Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi of Israel, to sign a petition urging the authorities to take “immediate action to safeguard this holy Jewish site and preserve the integrity of undivided Jerusalem, Israel’s eternal capital.”
It’s not exactly a radical demand. Nor is it very difficult to achieve. All it requires is to station some 24-hour armed guards on the premises. In the wake of the recent terrorist attacks, numerous synagogues and yeshivas around the world have hired armed guards. Why can’t the same be done for the oldest Jewish cemetery in the world?
This should not be a controversial position in the Jewish community. Every Jewish group, regardless of religious or political affiliation, should be able to agree on protecting the Mount of Olives. No matter what one thinks about Israel’s borders or settlements or any other issues, we should all be able to unite on this issue — including the leader of the prominent Jewish left-wing group whose late father is buried on the Mount of Olives.
The time for silence is over. The refusal of the Paris families to bury their loved ones on the Mount of Olives should be a wake-up call to the Jewish world to speak out for protection of this sacred site.
(Moshe Phillips is president of the Religious Zionists of America, Philadelphia, and a candidate on the Religious Zionist slate (www.VoteTorah.org) in the World Zionist Congress elections.)