Thousands of Jews are once again flocking to Har Hazeisim after years of refraining from visiting the holiest Jewish cemetery because of the threat of violence, which was a frequent occurrence in years past. The dramatic change is directly related to the vastly improved security situation, thanks to the work of the International Committee for the Restoration of Har Hazeisim (ICPHH) that began in May 2010. Security officials say that there has not been a grave desecration since October 2015 and only one or two isolated incidents of rock throwing on access roads and not in the cemetery itself.
Whereas an average of 300 visitors came to Har Hazeisim daily in 2015, that number today has swelled to 1500. In addition, large numbers participated this year in such major yahrzeits as the Rebbes of Zhvill and Ger as well as the Ohr Hachaim. Remarkably, people who have not been to the graves of parents and grandparents for many years once again feel safe enough to make the visit. One couple recently visited their parents’ grave after 12 years, which turned into an extremely emotional visit that could not have taken place just two years ago. Many of the visitors chose to use the government security service as added reassurance and others took extensive tours of the holy mountain with Josh Wander, the ICPHH representative on Har Hazeisim.
Avrohom Lubinsky, chairman of the ICPHH said: “Despite this historic development, the ICPHH recognizes its responsibility to maintain its vigilance so that the situation in the cemetery does not revert back to the days of daily vandalism, trafficking of drugs, the piles of refuse, donkey races, soccer games, all defiling our holiest cemetery. In addition, the ICPHH is working with government agencies on extensive plans to further secure and develop the 3000-year old cemetery.”
In what will further enhance the security of Har Hazeisim, the cemetery will soon be ringed with a wall/fence that will be particularly noticeable on the Eastern side of the mountain that includes the sectors of Gur, Afghanistan, Yemenites, Poland, and others. These were the sections that were frequent victims of Arab vandalism since the marauders were able to gain quick access and an even quicker escape. With the new fencing, the once troubled areas will be secured. The fencing, added to the network of 173 cameras, 24 police officers and a garrison of border police will add up to maximum security for the 3000-year old cemetery. Crews have been working to install the foundation and wiring for electricity (new lighting) and additional cameras.
The fencing idea was first raised by the ICPHH in 2012 with much resistance but the idea eventually gained momentum and finally enjoyed overwhelming support in the Knesset and in the Government. Through the efforts of the ICPHH, more than NIS 4.5 million was secured from municipal authorities and the national government, finally sealing the crucial fencing project. Kudos to Mayor Nir Barkat, Deputy Mayor Yosef Deutsch, Minister of Jerusalem Affairs Zev Elkin and MK Moshe Gafni, who’s Finance Committee approved and funded the project. The entire project is expected to be completed in March.
A strong supporter of security on Har Hazeisim, MK Moshe Gafni, chairman of the Knesset Finance Committee, recently announced a special grant of NIS 2 million to further beef up security on Har Hazeisim. In making the grant, MK Gafni said: “The ICPHH has lobbied me for years for additional security measures on Har Hazeisim which is why I am making this grant.”