President Reuven Rivlin visited the ancient Mount of Olives cemetery Monday and paid respect to the graves of his parents. He then went on to visit the "Afghan section" of the cemetery that has suffered intensely from Arab-Muslim vadalism in the last few months.
He was accompanied by four relatives of Jews who are buried in the Afghan section – Yigal Delmoni, Kobi Delmoni, Meir Naamad and Dikla Shafran.
The President of the Afghan Community, Reuven Kashani, was also present, as was Rabbi Rafael Bakshi, who is in charge of the Afghan Section. Also present were Director of the Jerusalem Council of Cemeteries, Rabbi Hillel Horowitz, and Col. Shmueli of the Israel Police.
The president was told that 62 graves have been severely damaged in recent months. The Afghan section, especially, is under attack. Trash is thrown into the section, graves are set on fire and visitors who come to the mountain are attacked with rocks.
Security cameras set up on the mount have been destroyed three times. There are plans to build a steep obstacle on the mountain's northeastern slope and to place permanent police positions in strategic locations.
Rivlin urged the responsible parties to accelerate work on renovating the damaged graves. “We have returned to our homeland and even in periods of ups and downs we did not desert it,” he said. “If something like this had happened anywhere else in the world, we would have heard a loud outcry. There is no doubt that as the sovereign power, we must do all that we can to prevent such acts. This is a sensitive area, where most of the residents want to live in peace, and we must stop the provocation. It cannot be that we cannot stop such terrible vandalism in our own country.”
Yigal Dilmoni, whose grandparents are buried at the site, told of his horror when, having arrived for a memorial service, he found their graves smashes and even partially burned by Arab vandals.
"If this would happen anywhere else in the win Europe, Israel would send the largest delegation ever to visit (in solidarity)… If it happened (in Israel) to a cemetery belonging to non-Jews or a church there would be huge headlines," he lamented bitterly. "Soon they will even tear the bones from the ground, and the whole world is silent."
"I understand the pain that emanates from the heart but we must not give up or despair, we will not be moved from here,” he told the families.
The Religious Services Ministry intends to double the security budget for the site.
"We are not going to give in to terrorism in the Mount of Olives area," Religious Services Minister David Azoulay (Shas) stated in June. "We will double the security budget during the approvals process for the state budget in order to stop vandalism on the Mount."
"There are 5,000 vacant gravesites [on Mount of Olives], which you don't have on Har Hamenuchot [the other main cemetery in Jerusalem – ed.], for example, but people are afraid to bury their loved ones there because of the desecration of gravestones and sense of a lack of security on the roads leading there," he added.
Religious Affairs Ministry CEO Oded Fluss added that the entire issue speaks volumes about whether Israel is truly exercising its sovereignty over Jerusalem.
He added that even a small boost in funding for security would solve many of the problems with the Mount.
"I do not know why the desecration of graves at other locations stirs up a media storm, while here, it's done systematically," he lamented. "We intend to make every effort to combat this phenomenon and bring this intolerable situation on the Mount of Olives and its roads to the public consciousness."
The budget for Mount of Olives is due to be expanded in any event, as part of the implementation of the coalition agreement ruling party Likud signed with Shas to form the new government.