Police officials promised additional security measures to further safeguard the 3000-year old Har Hazeisim cemetery. In an unprecedented reception by leading police officials for the leadership of the International Committee for Har Hazeisim (ICHH) earlier this month, the officials described a host of new security measures that have made Har Hazeisim safe for visitors. Led by the Commander of the Israeli Police in East Yerushalayim Doron Turgeman, the police spoke of additional surveillance cameras that were installed, the stationing of police in nearby Arab neighborhoods, and a much improved atmosphere of cooperation between police and local Arab communities.
Avraham Lubinsky, chairman of the ICHH, along with Harvey Schwartz and Jeff Daube, the leadership of the Israeli chapter of the ICHH, thanked the police brass for having dramatically changed the dynamics of security on Har Hazeisim. “You can’t imagine what the improved security of Har Hazeisim has meant for Jews all over the world,” said Mr. Lubinsky. “People are once again visiting the graves of relatives as well as the kvarim of so many of the sages, including leading Roshei Yeshiva and Chasidic rabbeyim who are buried there.” He added that “thanks to the new security measures visitors are no longer stoned and graves ceased to be desecrated.”
The addition of the police in the adjacent Arab neighborhoods has led to a new atmosphere of goodwill. Police officials said that for the first time the local Arabs feel that there is law and order in their communities and are approaching police officers for help with many issues including theft and family feuds. In addition new recreation programs for the neighborhood youth has kept them off the streets. The ICHH leadership proposed that police construct a new watchtower in the center of the Eastern section of Har Hazeisim which includes the chelkas of Polin, Agudas Achim and Ger. Police officials agreed to construct the tower.
The improved security has resulted in a dramatic increase in the number of daily visitors from an average daily number of 250 in 2015 to 2500 today. Tens of thousands of people have also been coming to the yahrzeit commemorations of the Or Hachaim, the Rebbeyim of Zhvil and Ger as well as the saintly Bartenura.
Har Hazeisim, which overlooks the Har Habayis, is the oldest surviving Jewish cemetery in the world, dating back over 3,000 years and is the resting place for over 150,000 Jews, including the foremost gedolim dating back to the nevi’im. Despite being in Israeli hands, the cemetery remained largely neglected until May 2010 when Israel’s State Controller Micha Lindenstrauss issued a stinging report on the neglect and abuse of the mokom kodosh. He blamed successive Israeli governments for virtually neglecting the cemetery. This shocking report prompted Avrohom Lubinsky, a Brooklyn NY businessman, to create the International Committee for the Preservation of Har Hazeisim.
The Committee has thus far managed to persuade the Israeli authorities to install 176 surveillance cameras in addition to a 24/7 Command Center. After extensive lobbying at the highest level of government, a police substation was finally established in March 2012. The police station has been a major deterrent to the criminal activity by Arab youths. In addition, a unit of the Border Patrol maintains a constant vigil and are now housed in a permanent structure, thanks to the courtesy of a benefactor. The Committee was also instrumental in the construction of a fence around the Eastern sector of the cemetery, an area that was the target of much violence in the past. Thanks to the efforts of the ICHH, there have been no destroyed graves in two years, security has vastly improved, and there was much improvement to the maintenance and cleanliness of the cemetery.
In a historic development, 67 members of the Knesset responded to an invitation by Speaker Yuli Edelstein to join a caucus on Har Hazeisim. Headed by MK Yoav ben Zur (Shas), the caucus is the largest in the history of Har Hazeisim.
The ICHH is committed to assure the safety of visitors travelling through the access roads, to continuing to upgrade the infrastructure, restore some 35,000 graves, and build a Visitor Educational Center.