The Knesset’s Interior Committee met this morning to discuss the ongoing security issues on Har Hazeisim. MK David Azoulai (Shas), who chairs the Committee, expressed impatience with the pace of progress to restore and secure the cemetery. Members of the committee at the hearing that included Yaakov Edri (Kadima), Nissim Zev (Shas) and Aryeh Eldad (National Union) also recommended that Har Hazeisim be added to the new government initiative to restore, upgrade, and maintain more than a hundred heritage sites in Israel. A budget of NIS 500 million has been allocated for the effort.
Chairman Azoulai also asked that his request be discussed at a special ministerial committee responsible for the heritage program.
While many government witnesses spoke of progress on Har Hazeisim, they were at a loss to explain the lack of security that has resulted in the frequent stoning of funeral processions and individual mourners. Several of the committee members wondered why the long awaited installation of lighting and surveillance cameras has yet to be completed. The government officials responsible also admitted that despite the increased efforts to restore many of the destroyed graves during the Jordanian occupation (1947-1967), the cemetery is still not well maintained and that filth and garbage reign in many areas.
A senior official at the Ministry of Religions said that while his Ministry was not responsible for security, it was nonetheless extremely concerned. He added that if the police do not take the matter seriously the security situation would never improve.
Jeff Daube, the Director of the Israel Office of the Zionist Organization of America, represented the International Committee for the Preservation of Har Hazeisim at the hearing. He listed the Committees demands, spoke of the appeals that have been made to the US government to condemn the violence and destruction on Har Hazeisim, and mentioned the efforts taken to persuade the local Arab authorities and the PA to condemn the violence and desecration. Additionally, Mr. Daube mentioned the Committees demand that the U.S State Department add the events on Har Hazeisim to its annual report on violations of international religious freedom. He ended his testimony by joining the Committee members in asking that the government take ownership over the issue.
Avrohom Lubinsky, Chairman of the International Committee for the Preservation of Har Hazeisim, congratulated the Knesset Interior Committee for taking the initiative to preserve Har Hazeitim, commenting that “every day that the plan to secure Har Hazeisim is not implemented is a day when mourners and visitors are routinely stoned, graves desecrated, and garbage strewn throughout a sacred place.” Mr. Lubinsky specially thanked the Shas Party, particularly Interior Minister Eli Yishai, for his leadership and help with this urgent matter.
Mr. Lubinsky also revealed that a new bill imposing stiff penalties against perpetrators of crimes in cemeteries was currently in the works. He said that MK Yoel Hasson of Kadima was the architect of the bill that would give the police new authority to make arrests, mandate tough penalties and sentences, and even hold the parents of minors who desecrate graves responsible for damages.
The International Committee for the Preservation of Har Hazeisim consists of representatives of major Jewish organizations including Malcolm Hoenlein, Executive Vice Chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. A visit by the Presidents Conference to Har Hazeitim last month was covered by the Associated Press and appeared in hundreds of media outlets throughout the world.
(YWN World Headquarters – NYC)