Saturday, February 25, 2012

N.Y. Congressmen Attacked in Rock-Throwing While Touring Desecrated Jerusalem Cemetery 

Two U.S. congressmen viewing acts of vandalism that marred a historic Jewish cemetery in Jerusalem nearly became victims themselves to the violence they had come to see.

Visiting the ancient Mount of Olives cemetery on Friday, a group that included Reps. Eliot Engel and Jerrold Nadler, both New York Democrats, was attacked by an unidentified man who threw a large “baseball-sized” rock at the group, nearly hitting Nadler, Nadler’s spokesman said.

Spokesman John Doty told City and State:

“He’s fine. No one was hurt,” Doty said. “I think they were waiting for their bus, and then a rock was thrown…and then Israeli police officers chased the person away. They didn’t catch them. Then they got on the bus and left.”

Engel confirmed the story in a statement:

“As we were about to board the bus at the conclusion of our visit, I heard a rock hit a car about 100 feet from us. I saw police jump out of their vehicle to ensure our safety. I don’t know if the rocks were thrown at us or at the police. All I know is we heard a thud and later someone brought over the rock. We were told that incidents happen like this all the time, but it is disconcerting to actually have been a part of it.”

Nadler’s spokesman disputed an earlier report in The Jewish Press which stated that the group was attacked by a “rock-throwing Arab mob.”

The group including Jewish American leaders was visiting the Mount of Olives cemetery just outside the Old City of Jerusalem which has been subjected to repeated acts of Arab vandalism.

The Jewish Press’ Managing Editor Yishai Fleisher, who guided the tour around the vandalized spots, told his newspaper:

“The attack the congressmen faced is part of the day-in day-out reality of Jewish communities who live in proximity to the ancient Jewish cemetery at the Mount of Olives and that is what we need to fight. However, when people ask me whether we are scared to live here, I tell them that while there is danger, it does not have to translate into fear. The enemies of Jewish rights in Jerusalem use terror as a tactic to keep us away. But we will not bow to the bullying.”

The incident in which the congressmen found themselves occurred on the same day Israeli police clashed with hundreds of Palestinians throwing rocks after Muslim prayers at Jerusalem’s most sensitive holy site.

One recent case of vandalism at the cemetery was recorded by security cameras in November. The Arab man seen toppling over Jewish tombstones in the video below was found guilty and sentenced to three months in prison for desecrating the cemetery. He told police he received 1,000 NIS ($370) to vandalize the cemetery, according to Israel National News. In response to the increased vandalism, the Israel Police decided in January to open a police station to guard against grave desecration and stoning of mourners and tourists, as the congressmen witnessed firsthand.

A public meeting was called for Saturday night in Jerusalem including members of Knesset, Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon and Malcolm Honlein of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations in order to address the recent acts of Mount of Olives desecration.

According to the International Committee for the Preservation of Har Hazeitim [Mount of Olives], the cemetery is 3,000 years old and holds 150,000 graves, including the final resting sites of the prophets Zechariah, Haggai and Malachi, leading rabbis, and former Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin.

Though it is unknown who was behind the rock-throwing or who paid the November vandal caught on tape, Palestinians and their supporters frequently deny the Jewish connection to Jerusalem and other locations in Israel. Examples include rebranding Jewish holy sites as Muslim, denying the Jewish Temple ever existed in Jerusalem, and identifying Jesus as a Palestinian. Erasing the Jewish connection to the Mount of Olives can only serve the political efforts to bolster the Palestinian claim to the Jerusalem, while challenging Israel’s.


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