The International Committee for Har Hazeitim (ICHH)
The trigger that inspired Avraham Lubinsky to organize the ICHH was the May 2010 report by Micha Lindenstrauss, who was then Israel’s State Comptroller. He criticized all previous governments for the “neglect” of Har Hazeitim. He painted a picture of desecrated graves, on-going rock throwing at mourners and visitors, strewn garbage, soccer playing with graves used as goal posts, donkeys crisscrossing the cemetery, and the mountain being the drug capital of East Jerusalem, all of which we verified during subsequent visits.
The ICHH was hastily organized to deal with this “national disgrace” and largely consisted of people who had a loved one buried on HH (many of which have helped the organization with contributions to help it get off the ground – people like Mr. Ben Zion Fishoff), heads of major Orthodox organizations (i.e. Rabbi David Zwiebel, Rabbi Pesach Lerner and Mr. Steve Savitsky) and Malcolm Hoenlein, the Vice Chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, who has been a key member of the leadership of the ICHH.
In June 2010, Malcolm Hoenlein and Menachem Lubinsky met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, which set in motion a series of meetings with officials in the PM’s office, Jerusalem Development Authority and the Municipality of Jerusalem. As a result of our meetings, we learned that the government had in the waning days of the late Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s administration allocated some NIS 80 million for security and infrastructure projects but had not executed the plan. Our first order of business was to bring security to HH as the incidents of stone throwing, destroyed graves and abuse continued.
By November 2011, the government had moved on setting up a fortified underground monitoring station for the 150 surveillance that were to be installed. The monitoring was to be done by a private security firm hired by the Ministry of Housing and Construction, who are also responsible for the small private security force that largely provides armed escorts for mourners. The government also moved on restoring thousands of graves, destroyed by the Jordanians (1948-1967) and other small infra-structure projects. But violence against visitors and destruction of graves continued, prompting the ICHH to push for a police presence on Har Hazeitim.
Police Caravans Arrive
The ICHH was promised from the beginning that a police station would be established on HH, to be manned by 24 officers, 24/7. Yet, despite our continuous pressure, including meetings with Minister of Public Security Yitzchak Aharonvich, the violence continued but the police deployment has never reached the full strength promised. In March 2012, the police finally moved in two caravans just below the Seven Arches Hotel (formerly the Intercontinental), but to date while there has been somewhat of a police presence, it still falls short of the promised force.
The first priority of the ICHH was to end the gross desecration of graves and bringing a semblance of security to HH. The following is a brief synopsis of some of the activities of the ICHH in its first five years:
- Secured wide support amongst Knesset members, including organizing a Knesset lobby that included representatives of all parties.
- Organized two major gatherings at the Great Synagogue (attended by 1800 and 1400 people respectively) with the participation of such notables as Danny Ayalon, Isaac Herzog, Tzippy Hotovely, Danny Danon and others.
- Retained a PR and lobbying group to serve as our “boots on the ground” in Israel
- Organized an Israel committee, headed by activists Harvey Schwartz (Young Israel) and Jeff Daube (Israel representative of the ZOA).
- Work with Israeli government, chevra kadisha, and Ir David to construct Visitor’s Information Center and other development plans.
- Established a European office
The key objective of the ICHH is to constantly monitor and advocate for security on HH and be on top of the development projects, thus assuring that Har Hazeitim, one of Judaism’s holiest sites and of immense strategic importance (in terms of security and the unity of Jerusalem) remains firmly Jewish.
Israeli Sovereignty and Control
A second key objective of the ICPHH is to reassert Israeli sovereignty and control over Har Hazeitim. This will hopefully be accomplished through a number of development projects that include the construction of the Visitor’s Center, new transportation initiatives, construction of a new part of the cemetery which will include several hundred new graves, restoration of 30,000 graves destroyed by the Jordanians, and infrastructure projects, including fencing, beautification, maintenance and signage.
The International Committee for Har Hazeitim was founded in 2010 to protect and preserve the legacy of the 3000-year old Har Hazeitim holy site and cemetery, which includes the burial sites of 150,000 Jews dating back to the Jewish prophets and Jewish luminaries and national leaders throughout the ages, including the late Prime Minister Menachem Begin. Working with the Israeli government and Jewish communities throughout the world, the ICHH is determined to bring full security to Judaism’s second holiest site and to transform Har Hazeitim into a center of Jewish tourism as a repository of Jewish history throughout the ages.
The International Committee for Har Hazeitim (ICHH) is a registered tax exempt 501 ( c ) 3 organization. Its governing structure includes a Board of Director and Executive Committee as well as a committee in Israel.