The Knesset has taken the first step towards legislating the establishment of a new national authority that will preserve, rebuild and protect the ancient Mt. of Olives cemetery. The bill has passed its preliminary reading, and is being prepared for its additional readings.
The legislation is sponsored by MK Aryeh Eldad (National Union). "Mt. of Olives has been a national site of the Jewish People since the days of the First Holy Temple [which was destroyed 2,500 years ago - ed.]," Eldad explained, "and continues now to be a historic and holy site of primary importance."
Without a national body coordinating efforts on the site's behalf, "there is no one to preserve it, and no one to prevent illegal construction and vandalism there."
Mt. of Olives overlooks the Old City of Jerusalem and the Temple Mount, and its summit is crowned by the Intercontinental Hotel. An estimated 20,000 gravesites remain in the ancient cemetery, out of some 70,000 - according to the lower estimates - that were there before the Jordanians took control of the site in 1948.
In 1967, when Israel liberated the area together with all of eastern Jerusalem and the surrounding Shomron and Judea areas, the extent of the Jordanian damage and vandalism was revealed. Gravestones were found to have been used for the construction of roads and army latrines, and a road paved through the cemetery destroyed hundreds of Jewish graves from as early as the First Temple Period.
Of late, vandalism of Mt. of Olives gravestones has been discovered periodically. Just this past February, MKs of the Knesset's State Control Committee toured the cemetery for the purpose of examining the many complaints of desecration, graffiti and smashed headstones. MK Zevulun Orlev (NRP) said at the time, "If such vandalism had occurred in a Jewish cemetery in Europe, it would shock the entire Jewish world; law enforcement authorities would attempt to capture the guilty parties... This is happening in the heart of the capital of Israel, adjacent to the Western Wall, [yet] the sovereign Jewish regime remains apathetic."
Among the many famous Jewish historical figures buried on the Mt. of Olives are:
- Rabbi Moshe Ben-Nachman (Ramban)
- Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Kook
- his son Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda Kook
- Israeli Chief Rabbi Shlomo Goren
- the Gerrer Rebbes
- Prime Minister Menachem Begin
- Nobel Prize laureate author S. Y. Agnon
- British Chief Rabbi Lord Immanuel Jakobovits
- Eliezer Ben-Yehuda, the father of modern Hebrew
- terrorist victim Eliyahu Asheri, kidnapped and murdered in 2006
- Aharon Hershler, murdered in 1873 when Arabs burst into his house.