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Monday, July 28, 2003

Jewish graves on Mount of Olives vandalized by local Arabs

This photo, from the Jewish National Fund Photo Archives, was taken in 1942, and shows a small section of the cemetery on the Mount of Olives where there are Jewish graves dating from the time of King David.

The story from JPost:
About 100 Jewish graves at Jerusalem's ancient Mount of Olives cemetery have been vandalized in recent months by local Arabs, a Jerusalem burial society said Monday.

Officials from Jerusalem's General Hevra Kadisha said the situation at the oldest Jewish cemetery in the world has seriously deteriorated in the past year, since a lack of state funding forced the dismissal of night-time guards at the site.

A visit on Monday to the desolate and neglected cemetery, located adjacent to several Arab neighborhoods, revealed about a dozen broken or otherwise shattered graves, scores of toppled tombstones, Arabic graffiti drawn on one grave, and a swastika on a cemetery wall.

Some of the graves had huge holes in them, while others had tombstones missing, or lying at the side of their graves.

According to Jewish tradition, resurrection of the dead will begin at the Mount of Olives, making it a popular burial place for thousands of years. Currently, the site looks dilapidated because of the vandalism and virtually non-existent maintenance.

"These Arab vandals are looking for every Jewish place in order to take revenge," said Hevra Kadisha security guard Oleg Kutsey, whose daily duties include reporting any damage to his bosses, and accompanying families who want to visit the largely-abandoned cemetery.

Kutsey is one of two guards that the Jerusalem Hevra Kadisha employs during day-time hours on their section of the cemetery. There are currently no other guards at the entire site, and none at night when almost all of the vandalism occurs. Such vandalism happens "all the time," Kutsey said.

The Russian-born security guard, who has worked at the site for the past 12 years, added that every morning an Arab employee of the Hevra Kadisha cleans up the litter left overnight from Arab teens who hang out at the recently lit up site, often drinking beer, smoking, and playing music from radio tapes that they connect to the electric boxes of light posts at the cemetery.

A spokesman for the Religious Affairs Ministry, which is responsible for security at the site, said Monday that the ministry has a full security plan ready for the site but it has not received the necessary funds from the Finance Ministry to carry it out.

A visit to the slightly better cared for American section of the cemetery Monday also revealed several overturned graves, and some blackened areas where bonfires had recently been lit. A large enclosed area, housing the graves of a prominent rabbi and his family, was recently fire bombed by Arab assailants, Kutsey said, and then barred and locked.

The late prime minister Menachem Begin's grave is a frequent target for Arab vandals, he added.