In the wake of the horrific April 18th stoning terror attack on U.S. citizen Tova Richler and her family on their way to the Mount of Olives Cemetery, the Zionist Organization of America’s Israel director, Jeff Daube, sent a letter (attached) to Jerusalem Consul General Michael Ratney, with copies to the U.S. State Department, which Ratney represents. Daube also sent copies to a dozen leaders in the U.S. and Israel who are especially concerned with the growing threat to the cemetery and its eastern Jerusalem environs.
Among the copied letter recipients: Israeli MK Miri Regev, who has been conducting Knesset hearings on this matter, for which Daube has arranged eyewitness testimonies; Mayor of Jerusalem Nir Barkat, who would like to see the area secured in order to realize its full potential; Israeli Minister Naftali Bennett, in charge of Jerusalem and Diaspora Affairs; U.S. Under Secretary Sarah Sewall, responsible for the State Department reports that are supposed to document these attacks; Members of Congress Eliot Engel (D-NY) and Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), who were subject to a rock attack when they visited the cemetery with Daube in 2012; Congresswoman Grace Meng (D-NY), whose recent HR 4028 bill amends an older bill to include international cemetery desecrations; and the U.S. special envoy on anti-Semitism, Ira Forman, whom Daube has separately asked to classify the attacks as anti-Semitism, since only Jews are being targeted.
In his letter, Daube cited an article about Ms. Richler, which described her inability to attend her own father’s funeral due to the shock of the attack [http://www.israelhayom.com/site/newsletter_article.php?id=16995]. He also referred to other recent stoning attacks on American citizens that resulted in serious injury, while reminding the Consul this is an ongoing and worsening problem over the course of too many years. Having previously raised the problem in several meetings and letter correspondence, including with Ratney’s predecessor Consul General Daniel Rubinstein – without any known steps thus far having been taken by any U.S. official to mitigate the disgraceful status quo – Daube suggested it was time for Ratney to enter the conversation.
As in past communications, the letter requested unqualified condemnation from the Consul General for the stoning attacks; and that he elicit condemnations (spoken in Arabic) combined with preventive action from the relevant Arab parties. Such parties would include local Arab leaders and muhktars, and the Palestinian Authority (PA) despite the oft-violated prohibition barring an official PA presence in Jerusalem. As the de facto U.S. embassy for the Palestinians, the Consulate has the right and access to demand from the PA that it change harmful policies; for example, the dogmatic religious bigotry that is rife in its own schools and mosques.
Daube’s letter additionally asked that the Mount of Olives area attacks, whose aim is to injure or kill Jews, be included in the 2014 edition of two State Department annual reports, Country Reports on Human Rights Practices and Country Reports on Terrorism. Daube spotlighted the omission he discovered in the 2013 terrorism report, which did however contain “extensive and disproportionate” references to the price tag attacks. Daube declared these attacks on Arab property warranted unequivocal condemnation, but not any more so than Arab attacks on Jewish lives. (For 2011 and 2012, ZOA’s Israel Office successfully had garnered a mention of the Jewish cemetery attacks in a different report, Country Reports on International Religious Freedom, but in 2013 the format changed and Israel was left out altogether.)
Asked to comment after sending the letter Daube said, “It’s a no-brainer that mourners and pilgrims of all nationalities should not have to worry about terror and intimidation, or be confronted with desecrated gravestones and deliberately strewn garbage, when they visit Judaism’s holiest cemetery. That consulate officials have not ever contacted and supported at least the American victims, nor voiced concern to them, nor expressed outrage let alone condemnations, is very disappointing. Hopefully the recent attacks on Ms. Richler, Mr. Harefnes, and the others we are alerting them to at this time, will catalyze an adequate response to the habitual civil and human rights abuses directed at Jews, in this and other parts of eastern Jerusalem.”
Daube expressed guarded optimism that Consul General Ratney would be sympathetic. He based this on a November 2012 meeting he had arranged for himself and Ratney with Michael Palmer. Michael is the father/grandfather of U.S. citizen Asher Palmer and not yet one year old Yonatan Palmer, who were murdered together in a Palestinian Arab stoning attack on Asher’s car – after which an Israeli court finally determined that rocks constitute a deadly weapon. According to Michael’s notes from the meeting, which he sent to Political Officer Jeremy Berndt, also present, and copied to Consular Section Chief Jeremy Cornforth and to Daube, Ratney had opened with a clear statement that he sees protecting American citizens as his “number one job,” which, he said, is the priority of all U.S. foreign service officers.
Daube is not unfamiliar with the political constraints that are likely to prevail nonetheless. Still, he is pressing ahead with the U.S. executive branch of government to initiate efforts, and to facilitate the efforts of others (e.g., the legislative branches of both countries, which Daube also is engaging), to tackle “this deplorable and untenable situation.” His reasoning is that official U.S. involvement is justified not only because so many Americans have been victimized, and hundreds of Americans are buried on the besieged Mount of Olives, but “yielding the area’s hegemony to violent Jew-hating groups has regional strategic implications,” Daube warned.
A recent IDF radio report shows how serious the situation has become. In the month of March, Jews living in Mount of Olives area neighborhoods were attacked by Arabs with rocks, boulders or Molotov cocktails at least 157 times. There were 150 reported attacks in February and 140 in January. The fewest number of reported attacks in any month over the last 18 months has been nearly 80. Public Security Ministry head Yitzchak Aharonovitz just admitted before the Knesset Interior Committee that 66% of violent crimes in the country go unreported, so the numbers cited may very well be understated.
Meanwhile, the International Committee for the Preservation of Har Hazeitim (ICPHH) – Daube is co-chair of the Israel division – has been urging Israeli authorities, since its founding in 2010, to take necessary steps toward fully safeguarding the Mount of Olives cemetery area. Daube thanked the relevant agencies for the new security cameras and and police substation, which ICPHH had lobbied persistently to see implemented. But, Daube added, more needs to be done legislatively about deterrence, including meaningfully punishing the perpetrators. “We need a policy of zero tolerance, from all concerned, when it comes to anti-Semitic violence in the Jewish state. If not here, then where?” he said.
TEXT OF LETTER
May 16, 2014
The Honorable Michael Ratney
Consul General of the United States
18 Agron Street
Dear Mr. Ratney:
I write in my dual capacity as Israel Director of the Zionist Organization of America, and Israel Co-Chair of the International Committee for the Preservation of Har Hazeitim (Mount of Olives).
Like hundreds of others in recent years, on April 18 an American citizen and resident of West Hempstead, NY, Tova Richler, became another victim of barefaced terrorism in Jerusalem. En route to the Jewish cemetery on the Mount of Olives to bury her father, Tova and family members were mercilessly attacked by Arab stone wielding youths. Tova was so badly terrorized that she was unable to attend her own father’s funeral. See http://www.israelhayom.com/site/newsletter_article.php?id=16995.
Other recent examples of terror assaults on American citizens resulting in serious injury, at or approaching the Mount of Olives Cemetery, include the Harfenes family from Brooklyn, NY, one of whom was sent by ambulance to an emergency room with his face bloodied. And a family from Atlanta, GA whose son’s vision in one eye had to be saved by a special surgeon at Shaare Zedek Hospital. (The latter family requested their names not be publicized due to the victim’s age, but I do have contact information and photos of the victims, from both incidents, which I may share with U.S. officials.)
These were not isolated occurrences. A deplorable situation of multiple attacks each week has been going on for years, actually worsening significantly since I first wrote about this in November 2010 to your predecessor, Consul Daniel Rubinstein. I have discussed this matter with former political officers Cindy Nga-Trinh, Elizabeth Lee, Jeremy Berndt, Frank Finver, and now Ryan Purnell. I think it is time that I asked you to join the conversation.
How simply appalling it is that regular Arab harassment and stone-throwing forces U.S. citizen mourners and others on the Mount of Olives to request protection each time they visit, which must be provided by an approved armed escort. How obscene that when mourners arrive they find smashed or spray-painted tombstones of loves ones, and deliberately dumped garbage all around.
As the consulate’s good offices are meant to represent the U.S. in Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria (West Bank) and Gaza, it appears the Mount of Olives falls within your diplomatic purview. On behalf of a growing network of outraged American and Israeli citizens, I therefore respectfully call upon the Consul General to undertake the following:
- Issue an unqualified condemnation of the ongoing sacrilege and violence.
- Prevail on local Arab leaders to condemn these acts and demand an immediate cessation — conveyed in no uncertain terms and in Arabic.
- Provide the means and venues for local Arab leaders and mukhtars to take steps to prevent future assaults, which would include educating their constituents to respect the holy sites of non-Moslem groups.
- Formally request from the Palestinian Authority (PA) that it weigh in — that is, if U.S. statutes do not proscribe contact with the PA due to its having formed a unity government with Hamas, a designated FTO. Ask the PA to issue its own condemnations of attacks, in Arabic, and to vigorously support local action against violators combined with tolerance education.
In light of the PA’s past failures to protect Jewish holy sites per signed previous accords, a suitable and sustained response to the Mount of Olives disgrace would be a most welcome demonstration that the PA is prepared to adopt a changed attitude. For example, PA Religious Affairs Minister Mahmoud Habash should be encouraged to issue a directive that Friday mosque sermons must include respect for all places of worship.
- Recommend to Under Secretary for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights Sarah Sewall that acts of violence directed at mourners, worshippers, pilgrims and visitors for political and nationalistic purposes, and similarly the desecration of graves, should be classified as acts of terrorism.
- Recommend to Under Secretary Sewall to include Mount of Olives Cemetery stoning attacks in the 2014 Country Reports on Terrorism.
The 2013 Country Reports on Terrorism contained extensive and disproportionate references to the price tag property attacks. It cited “Jewish extremists” as the perpetrators even though, despite active police enforcement, very few have been identified and prosecuted (to date). Hate crimes such as these, by any group, should be unequivocally condemned. Yet, the 2013 Reports completely omitted stoning attacks by identified Arab youth. These crimes, unlike the price tag crimes, were meant to cause serious injury and death. Thus the Arab attacks are comparatively far more appropriate for inclusion in a report on terrorism.
- Recommend to Under Secretary Sewall to include Mount of Olives Cemetery stoning attacks in her Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor 2014 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices. Maybe Section 6, in the subsection on Anti-Semitism, would be an appropriate place to note these depredations, since the attacks seem to be directed against Jews exclusively; i.e., contrast the attacks location with the peaceful lower northern portion of the Mount of Olives, which is dotted with Christian holy sites and frequented by large numbers of Christian pilgrims.
The Mount of Olives Cemetery is Judaism’s oldest, largest, most sacred burial ground. It is the final resting place not only for hundreds of American citizens, but for the Jewish People’s greatest leaders, heroes and luminaries. I do not believe Americans would endure such offenses at President John F. Kennedy’s gravesite in Arlington National Cemetery — or anywhere else in the U.S.
Congresswoman Grace Meng (D-NY) agrees. Recognizing the situation has become totally unacceptable, she recently introduced HR 4028, the Protect Cemeteries Act; to amend the 1998 International Religious Freedom Act to include wording that addresses desecrations, of the kind we have witnessed on the Mount of Olives. Congressmen Eliot Engel (D-NY) and Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), themselves victims in a rock-throwing incident at the Mount of Olives Cemetery in 2012, also have spoken out repeatedly.
I am confident that your sincere regard for the civil and human rights of both the living and the dead — a tradition of basic decency for Americans and Israelis alike — will move you, too, to take appropriate measures now that you have been apprised of this monumental wrongdoing.
For starters, please consider my invitation to you and your staff to join me on the Mount of Olives for a better understanding of its harsh reality. Mr. Purnell already responded positively to my offer of an on-site visit after I provided an extensive briefing on this and related matters at his office. As the Israel representative of one of the most respected Jewish American organizations, I stand ready to assist you in any way in search of a solution.
Director, Israel Office
Zionist Organization of America
Hon. Nir Barkat, Mayor of Jerusalem
Hon. Naftali Bennett, Minister of the Economy/Religious Services/Jerusalem and Diaspora Affairs
Hon. Eliot Engel, Chairman, International Council of Jewish Parliamentarians; Ranking Member, Foreign Affairs Committee
Ira Forman, U.S. Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism
Malcolm Hoenlein, Executive Vice President, Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations
Hon. John Kerry, U.S. Secretary of State
Morton A. Klein, National President, Zionist Organization of America
Hon. Avigdor Lieberman, Israel Minister of Foreign Affairs
Abraham Lubinsky, Chairman, International Committee for the Preservation of Har Hazeitim
Hon. Grace Meng, Member of Congress
Hon. Jerrold Nadler, Member of Congress
Ryan Purnell, Political Officer, Jerusalem Consulate
Hon. Miri Regev, Chairwoman, Knesset Committee for Internal Affairs and Environmental Quality
Hon. Sarah Sewall, Under Secretary, Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights
Hon. Daniel Shapiro, U.S. Ambassador to the State of Israel