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Group urges Netanyahu to protect Mount of Olives cemetery

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JERUSALEM (JTA) — A committee dedicated to preserving the Mount of Olives cemetery in Jerusalem called on Israel’s prime minister to secure access to the site.

In a letter to Benjamin Netanyahu, leaders of the International Committee for the Preservation of Har Hazeitim, Hebrew for Mount of Olives, asked the prime minister to order the installation of more surveillance cameras and increase the police presence in the area.

"These areas must be secured before the area can finally be declared a national treasure to be visited by Jews worldwide," read the letter, signed by Richard Stone, chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations; Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations; Rabbi Shmuel Goldin, president of the Rabbinical Council of America; and Rabbi Marc Dratch, executive vice president of the RCA. American businessman Abraham Lubinsky is chairman of the International Committee for the Preservation of Har Hazeitim. 

The letter, delivered earlier this month, notes that there are frequent rock-throwing incidents by local Arabs on Jews visiting the cemetery, and that there has been at least one stabbing. a year ago, Hoenlein and U.S. Reps. Eliot Engel and Jerrold Nadler, both New York Democrats, narrowly escaped injury from an Arab stoning attack. During the visit, the delegation saw smashed headstones and graffiti throughout the graveyard, located on a hillside in eastern Jerusalem. 

"I think Prime Minister Netanyahu understands the importance of the issues surrounding Har Hazeitim and the significance of the sensitivities involved concerning the historic site and for the unity of Jerusalem," Hoenlein said Tuesday. "We have made dramatic progress in recent years, which will hopefully be completed in the coming months, to assure visits to loved ones and Jewish figures from throughout the ages take place without fear and endangerment. We raised this matter in a recent meeting with the prime minister."

There are an estimated 150,000 graves on the mountain, where Jews have been buried since biblical times. Notable individuals buried there include the prophets Zechariah, Malachi and Hagai; Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin; famous modern rabbis such as Aryeh Kaplan and Ahron Soloveichik; Henrietta Szold, founder of Hadassah; cantor Yossele Rosenblatt; and British parliamentarian Robert Maxwell.

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