The Mount of Olives cemetery in Jerusalem is the oldest and largest Jewish cemetery in the world. Existing east of the Green Line (EGL) in eastern Jerusalem, it is considered “Arab land” by the New York Times, illegal by the United Nations, and against the desires of the acting President of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, who craves a country with eastern Jerusalem as his capital, devoid of any Jews.
There are somewhere between 70,000 and 150,000 Jewish graves on the Mount of Olives and include famous people such as Rabbi Obadiah of Bertinoro (Bartenura 1445-1515), Rabbi Yehuda Hehasid (1660-1700), Holy Land scholar Rabbi Yehosef Schwartz (1804-1865), leading Zionist Rabbi Yehuda Alkalai (1798-1878), the champion of revitalizing the Hebrew language Eliezer Ben-Yehuda (1858-1922), Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook (1865-1935), and poet SY Agnon (1887-1970). The vast majority of the graves date from the 15th and 16th century, when the Ottoman Turks rebuilt the city walls of Jerusalem. While some older graves dating back 3,000 years are also found there, many of the older tombs are found east and west of the City of David which stretches south of today’s Old City walls, in and around Siloam/Silwan. Thousands of years ago, Jews placed their dead in the chalky caves in the area, and gathered the bones a year later to place them in ossuaries.
When the Jordanian army invaded Israel in 1948 and seized the eastern portion of Jerusalem the following year and illegally annexed it in 1950, they desecrated and damaged the cemetery. Some tombstones were used to construct the Arab Legion camp as far away as Jericho.
The cemetery is frequently vandalized. In 1990, Arabs broke over ten tombstones, including that of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s grandfather. In 2015, during the Palestinian Arab stabbing rampages, vandals smashed numerous tombstones at the site.
The Palestinian Authority has not clearly articulated whether its demands for “East Jerusalem” requires uprooting over 70,000 dead Jews on the Mount of Olives, but it is likely that Hamas does not mind coexisting with dead Jews, as the political-terrorist group continues to hold the bodies of two Israeli soldiers killed over seven years ago in Gaza.
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