Blog Category: ‘Mount Zion’

Window to Mount Zion – Cleaning the Dejani Cemetery

March 26th, 2017

Adjacent to the David’s Tomb complex is the Dajani cemetery. It is an historic Muslim cemetery where the Dajani family, a well-known, well-established Jerusalem family, buried its family members. This includes a former Mayor of Jerusalem and other VIPs.

Before the Clean-up March 2017

Before the Clean-up March 2017

For a long time this cemetery stood locked and neglected, and was an eyesore to anyone (some 2 million tourists (!) per year) who visited the area of David’s Tomb.

Organizing the volunteer workers

Organizing the volunteer workers

Until Window to Mount Zion decided to to something. Window to Mount Zion organized a unique clean-up mission, together with our volunteers, the Jerusalem Municipality, the Israel Police, and the Dajani family. Thanks to our volunteers, all the different bodies came together for the project.

Hard at work

Hard at work

The clean-up took place on Monday, March 20. They weeded, cleaned up, and cleared away tree trunks and other unnecessary vegetation and garbage that had sprouted and multiplied over the years.

Eran, one of the volunteers, had a special experience. Together with a descendant of the Dajani family, he cleaned up the area around the grave of Abd el-Kadr Tahbub, who was the supreme judge of Jerusalem. Together, they also read the special poem that was written on his gravestone.

Cleaning up a special grave

Cleaning up a special grave

Work in the cemetery isn’t finished. In the future, we also seek to map the cemetery and fix some of the gravestones that have been damaged over the years.

Here’s the Facebook post (in Hebrew) about the work:

Many thanks to all the partners who helped take part in this special cleanup – the Jerusalem Municipality, Israel Police, the Dajani family, of course the volunteers. Here’s to additional fruitful, intercultural and inter-religious partnerships in the future.

Many thanks to the Jerusalem Foundation for their continuing support of our efforts to promote tolerance in Jerusalem.

Print Friendly

Window to Mount Zion – Praying for Church Unity

February 4th, 2017

Jerusalem has certainly seen its share of conflict – between Israelis and Palestinians, Jews and Arabs, Ultra-Orthodox Jews and Secular Jews, and even conflicts between different Christian denominations. And sometimes, Jerusalem also leads efforts to resolve those conflicts, on many levels. Thus is the rationale behind the Prayer for Church Unity that took place on January 26, 2017 on Mount Zion.

Leading the prayer for church unity

Leading the prayer for church unity

In 1964, Pope Paul VI made his first papal visit to the Middle East since the Middle Ages. In January 1964 he conducted an historic meeting with the Orthodox Patriarch of Constantinople, the first such meeting in 900 years! Since then, Christians around the world hold joint prayer services during the last week of January. In Jerusalem, this includes a special prayer, recited in the Cenacle (Room of the Last Supper), which is formally a neutral place, historically and religiously significant, and a sacred site to almost all the Christian communities in the city.

Some 200 worshipers were present

Some 200 worshipers were present

We first reported about this prayer last year. (You can read here about our experience.) This year, for the second year running the prayer for church unity again ran smoothly, thanks to the volunteers of Window to Mount Zion and their close cooperation with the David Precinct of the Israel Police. Together, clad in their bright yellow vests, Window to Mount Zion volunteers were there to advance tolerance and ensure that all 200 worshipers, members of all different denominations, were able to peacefully take part in the prayer.

Window to Mount Zion volunteers

Window to Mount Zion volunteers

Worshipers prayed in one of the holiest places in Jerusalem, and we were proud to be part of this effort to build bridges between different groups. Congratulations to Window to Mount Zion volunteers on another job well done!

Here’s the Facebook post (in Hebrew) from the Window to Mount Zion Facebook page:

Print Friendly

2016 – What a Year!

January 25th, 2017

As we jump head-first into 2017, we wanted to take a minute to reflect on 2016, and what a year it’s been! Overall, a year of unprecedented growth and development, and we can’t wait to get started in 2017. Here are some highlights:

Cultural Competence

  • The Jerusalem as a Culturally Competent City conference in May 2016, organized jointly by the JICC and the Jerusalem Foundation as part of its 50th anniversary celebrations, was a turning point for the JICC. Attended by hundreds of professionals, from Jerusalem and throughout Israel, the conference presented strides that have been made over the past 10 years, and set the stage for the next step of meeting diverse residents’ diverse needs, in all areas of life.
  • Continued work in the health care system, in Jerusalem and as a model throughout Israel, training in-house coordinators and facilitators to increase sustainability and adaptability within individual institutions. For the first time, work included a national network of hospitals and clinics.
  • Expansive work in the Israel Police Force, reaching most police stations and present and future commanding officials, and continuing to expand training in 2017.
  • Groundbreaking work with the National Insurance Institute (NII), East Jerusalem branch, the first NII branch in the country to undergo a process of cultural competence.
  • In the Jerusalem Municipality, the entire Community Services Administration, which includes welfare, public health, immigrant absorption, and more, is undergoing training, as well as the Auditor’s Office which will be able to look at the entire Municipality’s operations through the prism of cultural competency and sensitivity.
  • Santé Israël, the first web site to make Israel’s health care system accessible to French speakers, celebrated its first birthday. 
Ms. Uzma Shakir, Keynote Speaker

Ms. Uzma Shakir, Keynote Speaker, Jerusalem as a Culturally Competent City conference

Paramedical Professionals

Making healthcare practitioner exams accessible to Arab residents of east Jerusalem

2016 was an important year for us to take stock of the past four years of this program. Our conclusions show that:

  • The number of certified Arab paramedical professionals in East Jerusalem has grown significantly.
  • The program has enabled the JICC to more clearly map the situation of different paramedical professions in east Jerusalem, contributing to the knowledge of training in the Jerusalem area.
  • The awareness both among Palestinian institutes of higher education and health care institutions in east Jerusalem as well as Israeli Ministry of Health has been raised significantly.
  • A large window of opportunity for Arab women paramedical professionals to improve economic opportunities has been opened.

Nurses studying to pass their Israeli certification examinations

Talking Coexistence – Arabic Language Instruction

Both 2015 – 2016 and 2016 – 2017 broke enrollment records. In 2015-16 there were 180 students in 12 classes, over 5 levels. In 2016-2017, there are 240 students in 16 classes, also over 5 levels. We also held several cultural evenings to enrich students’ understanding of Arabic culture. Here’s a short video about the program:

Atta’a Assistance Center for the Rights of East Jerusalem Residents

The Atta’a Center has been in existence since 2004, and in 2015 it came under the aegis of the JICC. In 2016 we have seen:

  • 70% growth in number of requests
  • Ballooning of its Facebook page to over 7,100 ‘likes,’ and launching of its web site.
  • Publication of a widely-referenced booklet on the Ministry of Interior
  • Expansion of network of partners in action, both from NGO’s and advocacy groups as well as municipal and government agencies.

Atta’a Presenting workshops

MiniActive for Arab Residents of East Jerusalem

  • For the first time ever, MiniActive activities led to a change in policy. After months of campaigning, MiniActive led the way toward the addition of 3 million NIS to the annual municipal sanitation budget for east Jerusalem, and 16 million NIS for the purchase of additional equipment for sanitation. As a result of this work, the entire Municipality is focusing their attention on garbage collection throughout
  • In January 2016, MiniActive organized the first ever Arabic language Horticulture Therapy course in Jerusalem for special education teachers, in cooperation with the David Yellin Academic College of Education.
  • Bus stops in entire neighborhoods were repaired and replaced, thanks to MiniActive.
  • 210 women – including 50 youth – are studying Hebrew through a volunteer NGO to improve the effectivity of their activism. This is a record-breaking number, which broke last year’s record of 150 women.
  • In MiniActive Youth for the Environment, teenage girls learn leadership skills while participating in major environment-improving public art and other projects in neighborhoods throughout east Jerusalem.
  • MiniActive became a model for international work, hosting a delegation that works with the Roma population in the Czech Republic in November 2016.

Take a look at MiniActive’s own year in review. It’s pretty easy to understand, even if you don’t know Arabic:

Emergency Readiness Networks

In 2016 we expanded the network to include 14 communities throughout Jerusalem. In addition to training new volunteers, the program included training of existing networks to maintain ability to respond and increase sustainability.

Planning on map

Planning strategy on map

Multicultural Participatory Democracy

In 2016 we mentored community center staffs in Gilo, Kiryat Menachem, Givat Messuah, Baka’a and south Talpiot. For the first time, residents – especially the Ethiopian community in Kiryat Menachem and the highly diverse community of south Talpiot –felt that they were able to influence issues that affected their everyday lives. Training included using Facebook as a community-building tool key to increasing residents’ engagement in community processes.

Writing and submitting objections

Writing and submitting objections in Gilo

Promoting Tolerance in the Public Sphere

Since the summer of 2014 the JICC have been at the forefront of promoting tolerance in Jerusalem. 2016 accomplishments include:

  • A Different Day in Jerusalem celebrated Jerusalem’s diversity through 50 coordinated events, affecting tens of thousands of people on Jerusalem Day. It was the first time such a broad effort has been made to celebrate Jerusalem’s diversity.
  • JICC-mentored Speaking in the Square and other tolerance initiatives that came in their wake led to the redesigning of Zion Square, to be called Tolerance Square. The initiative’s Effective Dialogue methodology spread, and is now being presented in national frameworks.
  • 0202-Points of View from Jerusalem are now liked by nearly 80,000 people and reach some 150,000 people weekly on Facebook and the Internet. The network now includes pages that translate from Arabic to Hebrew, from Arabic to English and one which brings news from the Ultra-Orthodox world to the awareness of the general population.
  • The JICC was asked to be one of the leading organizations in the Coalition of Civil Society Organizations to Promote Tolerance, formed by the Center for Young Adults and the Municipality’s Young Authority.
  • The JICC is continuing to develop Tolerance Network Teams (TNT’s), a series of neighborhood-based and theme-based grassroots initiatives that seek to advance tolerance in Jerusalem.
Elhanan Miller Haaretz article

Haaretz article about A Different Day in Jerusalem

Window to Mount Zion

Since October 2015, Window to Mount Zion has bridged inter-religious and inter-community gaps that have festered between Jewish, Christian and Muslim groups for centuries. As a result of its activity over the past year:

  • In unheard-of cooperation, religious Jewish and Christian groups have issued joint statements condemning hate crimes on Mount Zion.
  • Christian ceremonies, which in the past have caused inter-religious tension, proceeded without incident.
  • The celebration of Christian and Jewish holidays that coincided simultaneously, which in the past had been the source of conflict and tension, also proceeded smoothly.
Window to Mount Zion volunteers

Window to Mount Zion volunteers

Asylum Seekers

The JICC, together with the Jerusalem Municipality, sponsor the only paid public servant in Israel to help asylum seekers, outside of Tel Aviv. We are also part of a consortium of organizations and agencies that seek to meet the needs of asylum seekers living in the city.

Tour of Nahlaot neighborhood

Families of asylum seekers on tour of Nahlaot neighborhood

Thank You!

Many many thanks go out to our partners in action and our donors. You can read about our activities in more detail either by clicking on the hyperlinks above, or by clicking here.

Looking forward to making 2017 even better!

Print Friendly

Window to Mount Zion – Christmas and Chanukah on Mount Zion

December 31st, 2016

What do you do on Mount Zion when the weekly Saturday-night celebration, known as a Melave Malka, the first night of Chanukah, and Christmas Eve all fall on the same day? You celebrate, of course! With a little (actually a lot) of help from Window to Mount Zion.

Window to Mount Zion volunteers

Window to Mount Zion volunteers

It hasn’t always been this way. In the past the presence of different groups of Jews and Christians celebrating at the same time in the same space have caused tension and even violence. Thanks to the Window to Mount Zion project, over the past year and a half tensions have markedly decreased. Project volunteers work hand in hand with the major religious institutions on Mount Zion, (such as the Dormition Abbey, the Yeshiva of the Diaspora, those associated with David’s Tomb), as well as with the police and police volunteers. All of this cooperation has helped to enable a wide variety of holiday celebrations and events to take place in a unique way that respects everyone’s traditions.

Christmas Eve at the Dormition Abbey

Christmas Eve at the Dormition Abbey

Here’s a short clip of the midnight mass at the Dormition Abbey:

This was the second year that Window to Mount Zion volunteers came to the Christmas Eve service at the Dormition Abbey. After the success of last year, the Dormition Abbey actually called Window to Mount Zion to make sure they were going to be helping out again this year. Volunteers received the many guests who came for the midnight mass at the church and explained to them what was going on. Most of the guests were Israeli Jews who wanted a ‘far-away experience’ close to home, and who are interested in the different and diverse cultures in Jerusalem.

Celebrating at the Melave Malka as well

Celebrating at the Melave Malka as well

Window to Mount Zion volunteers were also part of the weekly Melave Malka festivities, which take place every Saturday night. They were there to explain and give background to the guests, and give a general helping hand.

We’re forever thankful to the Window to Mount Zion volunteers for their work. As a way of saying thanks, we brought them a lecture before the celebrations began. This time it was Yiscah Hareni, who spoke about the significance of Christmas.

Happy Holidays from Mount Zion in Jerusalem! May the Mount Zion model serve as an example for the rest of Jerusalem, and even the entire region.

And here’s the Facebook post in Hebrew about the event:


Print Friendly

Comparing and Contrasting Mount Zion to the Temple Mount – JICC and Window to Mount Zion, in Jerusalem Post Article

July 18th, 2016

The Temple Mount and Mount Zion are two areas considered holy to a number of different groups, in relatively close proximity. Yet, we mostly hear about tensions only about the Temple Mount.


Journalist Peggy Cidor explored this question in the article that recently appeared in the Jerusalem Post, both in print and online. You can find the full text, in which she cites both our director Dr. Hagai Agmon-Snir and coordinator of the Window to Mount Zion project Merav Horovitz-Stein, below.

Despite the existence of significant religious sites for Judaism, Islam and Christianity on both Mount Zion and the Temple Mount, only one seems to periodically explode with tensions. Why?

Last Friday evening was Laylat al-Qadar, the last Friday of Ramadan – a night dedicated to special prayers and meditation. As in the last few years, it drew tens of thousands of worshipers to the Temple Mount – to Haram al-Sharif and al-Aksa Mosque.
According to Hisham, the taxi driver who drove me to the Old City the following Sunday morning, there were some 300,000 worshipers there. More official figures estimate 150,000.

“In any case,” says Ami Metav, formerly with the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency), Jerusalem region, “we’re talking about an impressive number of people. Despite the tension that arose over the prior few days on the Mount [with Palestinians entrenching themselves in al-Aksa with a supply of stones and fireworks, and one person lightly wounded on June 28], it went on without even the tiniest disturbance, without any need for the police to interfere.”

Tension and friction in Jerusalem are almost a matter of routine, sometimes ending in bloodshed, other times controlled before reaching that stage. But in two particular locations, very different initiatives and activities have produced different results. While the eyes of the world are locked on Jerusalem in general and more precisely on the Temple Mount, nearby Mount Zion – which has just as many points of friction and tension among various religious factions – has managed to remain less chaotic most of the time.

One explanation is the fact that while Mount Zion has long been part of Israel proper, the Temple Mount was recaptured in 1967 during the Six Day War.

Another reason is that despite the tremendous potential for tourism and global interest, Mount Zion has never made it to the front lines of the violence, apart from sporadic incidents perpetrated by hooligans, mostly arson of Christian institutions. Although there is there a Muslim site – the Dajani Cemetery – the other parties involved are Jewish and Christian, with most of the city’s Christian community represented.

There are some obvious reasons why the situation is less explosive on Mount Zion than it is on the Temple Mount, even though both are highly significant sites for more than one religion. A source in the local security forces says that since the Christian sites on Mount Zion are mostly Catholic, it couldn’t be otherwise.

“The fact that they are Catholic sites means they belong to the Vatican. No official representing the State of Israel would want to reach a situation in which the Vatican’s interests would be harmed under our control. That’s out of the question,” he says.

And indeed, despite tough opposition by some Jewish religious, right-wing parties, the conflict between Jewish and Christian interests at King David’s Tomb – whose second story is recognized by Christians as the room in which the Last Supper was served to Jesus and his disciples (the Coenaculum), in a conflict that has reached some peaks over the last two years – nothing there can compare to the extent of the conflict experienced on the Temple Mount over the years.

As for the Greek Orthodox and Armenian sites there, while the former are rather hostile to Israeli sovereignty and the latter express no preference for either side, both avoid as much as possible calling for police intervention in cases of friction with Jewish factions on Mount Zion.

Despite repeated recommendations to do so, there is no official body responsible for keeping order on Mount Zion. For several years now, the Jerusalem Intercultural Center (JICC) there has acted as a sort of non-official volunteer agent between the parties.

“Since we are not officially on duty here,” explains center director Hagai Agmon-Snir, “our efforts to calm the situation in cases of dissent or to offer solutions to local conflicts between the parties operating here are welcome. After all, we are not identified with the authorities but we are neighbors, and we have learned to know each one of the parties.”

THE TEMPLE Mount is a totally different story. Comprising only 300 square meters of the one square kilometer of the entire Old City, the world remains focused on it. For Metav, a coordinator and facilitator for the municipality, the Jerusalem Development Authority and the East Jerusalem Development Company (PAMI), there is no corner or issue that is not familiar to him.

Metav’s daily routine takes place in the narrow streets of the Old City, wherever there is a need to listen, act, offer solutions to residents and, above all, mediate between the Arab residents and the authorities, which they avoid out of fear and lack of knowledge but also an unwillingness to “cooperate” with Israeli authorities. Infrastructure, heavy construction – nothing moves in the Old City without Metav’s being involved or at least notified.

“With regard to the Temple Mount, the situation is so fragile that at any moment things can just explode,” he concedes.

Metav recently published a book on the Old City in which one of the chapters centers on the Temple Mount.

“There is something basic that we have to understand,” he begins. “While for us, Israeli Jews, there is an understanding that protecting our country might also mean going to war and losing loved ones, for the Palestinians, saving al-Aksa or protecting it from any attempt – real or imagined – to fall into foreign hands is a good reason to die or to send one’s children to death.”

Metav adds that this is not a position of judgment but a conclusion he has reached based on facts and thousands of hours of conversations with Palestinians.

“They are incredibly sensitive to any act or step that might be interpreted as an attempt to harm their status on the Mount,” he says.

He is convinced that Jerusalem’s Palestinian sector is largely ripe for what he calls “a process of Israelization,” which he sees as irreversible. “But at the same time, this the best moment for those opposed to this move to try anything they can do to stop it – hence, the very tough reactions that are all converging on the situation on the Temple Mount.”

Metav says that what we’ve seen during last year’s High Holy Days compared to the situation during Passover this past April illustrate exactly what he is describing.

“I am not talking about our rights, but about the situation on the ground. Last Rosh Hashana and Succot, Jews were allowed to visit the Temple Mount; and since it was a holiday period, there were quite a few visitors. As a result, when Arabs arrived for their prayers, the police decided, in order to avoid any friction, to stop them and allow them to enter only a few hours later.

“For them it was clear: Sheikh Raed Salah Abu Shakra [leader of the northern branch of the Islamic Movement in Israel, convicted among other things of funding Hamas and of assaulting a police officer] had been telling the truth. This meant al-Aksa was in danger and that the Israeli plan was to impose here what had been imposed in Hebron at the Cave of the Patriarchs – dividing the Mount area.

“This was the sign for many young adults, already incited by the imams, to launch the attacks [that kicked off a wave of Palestinian violence]. The stabbings and deaths began there.”

Asked to explain, if this is the case why police then allowed so many Jewish visitors on the Mount, Metav admits that while the police and security forces’ evaluations and recommendations are always entirely professional, the final decision is in the hands of those with the ultimate authority – the politicians, “who sometimes see a different picture.” This is a situation that does not exist on Mount Zion, where there is less political interest or impact.

“Look at what happened here this past Passover,” Metav points out. “The police didn’t impose any restriction on Arabs visiting the Mount, and as a result it all went as peacefully as possible.”

Metav clarifies that he is not suggesting that Jews should be prevented from visiting the Temple Mount, but that “these things should be done with the utmost sensitivity and caution. There is no other way to say it: It is a terribly explosive location.”

Inside the Old City, near Jaffa Gate, the newly renovated alleys and infrastructure spearheaded by the JDA and PAMI with Metav’s close involvement show what he has in mind when he talks about the need to listen to residents and provide solutions for them. Cleaning the little byways there has a wider impact than in any other place in the city; it simply means there is a possibility for some cooperation with the authorities, not just in obtaining basic services.

But all these aspects of daily life fall away as soon as al-Aksa Mosque is at stake.

“Take the cameras that King Abdullah of Jordan wanted to install on the Mount [in October 2015 for round-the-clock surveillance, in what was said to be an effort to calm tension],” continues Metav. “All the equipment had arrived here, sophisticated cameras; they were planned to be directly linked to a center in Jordan, and the Israel Police was permitted to get all the material filmed. But I was quite sure it would never happen. The worshipers adamantly refused to let anyone install them. I can understand them; it’s a severe breach of their religious privacy. And indeed, there is no indication that the cameras will be installed,” he says.

“So it’s all a matter of fragile equilibrium: Not to allow any riots or violence and, at the same time, to make it clear that there are no plans to change the situation – the famous status quo on the Mount,” concludes Metav.

BACK at Mount Zion, things are operating more on the basis of self-policed properties, with the Jerusalem Intercultural Center working with all groups – at the’ Diaspora Yeshiva and the Chamber of the Holocaust Museum; at Christian institutions such as Dormition Abbey and the Coenaculum in King David’s Tomb; and at Muslim sites such as the Dajani Cemetery.

As the JICC’s Agmon-Snir affirms, citing the example of King David’s Tomb, “Despite all these [potentially] explosive situations, we, all the parties involved, have managed to reach some kind of peaceful cooperation.

“Moreover, last week, for example, Hagihon planned a break in the water supply to the Mount. We, at the center, were the only ones aware of it, so coordinator Merav Horowitz informed all the parties [of all sectors] and forced Hagihon to inform everyone and take them into consideration. That’s how we work here.”

Print Friendly

Window on Mt. Zion – Keeping the Peace during Orthodox Pentecost Ceremonies

June 25th, 2016

This past year has been full of challenges for Window to Mount Zion, trying to enable all faiths and all groups to engage in their respective prayers and religious rituals, without infringing upon the rights and religious rituals of others, while maintaining mutual respect for all.

Armenian Pentecost ceremony

Armenian Pentecost ceremony

Last Sunday – Monday, June 19-20, was a case in point. It was the Pentecost for the Greek Orthodox and Armenian churches, the day according to Christian tradition that the Holy Spirit descended to the Apostles and other followers of Jesus. For many this is the moment when the church was created, and when the Apostles began spreading the Christian religion, and visiting the Cenacle, the Room of the Last Supper, is a vital part of the holiday’s celebration. (You might remember that we discussed the Pentecost recently. That is because the Pentecost for the Eastern Churches is different than that of the Catholic church, which was a month ago.) The ceremony for the Armenian church took place on Sunday June 19, and for the Greek Orthodox church, on Monday the 20th.

Greek Orthodox leaving David's Tomb

Greek Orthodox leaving David’s Tomb

The procession set out from the Armenian Quarter of the Old City toward Mount Zion and the Cenacle in the late afternoon. They prayed there for about 1/2 an hour, accompanied by a small number of members of the Armenian community. At the same time, Jews prayed in David’s Tomb without disturbance. For a moment Mount Zion was a symbol of inter-religious tolerance that enables everyone to fulfill his or her religious traditions.

The challenge came the next morning, on Monday morning, June 20, when the Greek Orthodox church held its ceremony. According to the ancient status quo agreements, during the Greek Orthodox ceremony a small number of priests go from the Cenacle on the second floor, via a special staircase that is opened only on this day, into David’s Tomb on the ground floor for a very short prayer. King David is a holy and important character for Jews, Christians as well as Muslims, and it is important for the Greek Orthodox to pray next to his grave. However, this event often creates a great deal of tension between the Orthodox Christians and Jews, who see this Christian prayer as defiling the holiness of David’s Tomb.

The police were prepared, with reinforcements in place, to ensure that order was kept. Window on Mt. Zion volunteers were there as well. They not only helped the police in keeping order, they were able to explain what is going on to both those involved and passersby, diffusing some of the tension that is sometimes inherent in interactions with the police.

This is from the Facebook post (in Hebrew).

The morning was not without incident. Over the two days a number of Jews tried to barricade themselves in David’s Tomb, in an effort to stop the Green Orthodox service. These people were arrested. Because of these events, the police closed off David’s Tomb to visitors in the morning, except for a small number of Rabbis. During the service some Jews demonstrated outside. Those who were violent were arrested as well.

We can’t emphasize enough that most of the Jews living, working and praying on Mount Zion throughout the year staunchly oppose violence against Christians in the David’s Tomb and Cenacle complex. Over the last year, thanks to the Window on Mt. Zion program, we have reached important understandings with all those who live and work here that have great improved relations between neighbors. And the more we are there, we see what a difference our presence makes.

On the morning of the 20th, a large, official Greek Orthodox procession, including the Bishop and many members of the Greek Orthodox community in Jerusalem, arrived at the Cenacle. There they held a short prayer service, during which a number of priests and the bishop descended into David’s Tomb as planned.  Shortly afterward, they left the complex. Window on Mt. Zion volunteers were there to explain what was going on to passersby and to those demonstrating against the service. Except for a few incidents of violence, which were handled quickly by the police, the event finished peacefully and respectfully. Here’s the video of the Greek Orthodox praying in the Cenacle:

And here’s a video of their prayer in David’s Tomb:

Eetta Prince-Gibson, also a Window on Mt. Zion volunteer, wrote about the experience in the Ha’aretz daily. Here’s the link to the full article.

Pentecost Haaretz article

Pentecost Haaretz article

And here’s the article from the Window on Mt. Zion blog (in Hebrew).

Many thanks again to the Window on Mount Zion volunteers! Without your help, we are sure events would have ended more like they did last year. Just for comparison, Eran Tzidkiyahu, one of the co-leaders of the Window on Mount Zion project, posted a year ago a short video:


Here are some past news reports to show the contrast:

Print Friendly

Window to Mt. Zion – Sharing Mt. Zion on Shavuot

June 16th, 2016

The Jewish Shavuot holiday is often one of the most exciting and busiest times on Mount Zion. According to Jewish tradition, Shavuot commemorates both the birth and the death of King David, which would certainly be a special time at David’s Tomb.

It is customary to recite Psalms and study Torah all night on Shavuot. Therefore, beginning in the evening hundreds of people started to gather. Huge signs were hung welcoming people to David’s Tomb, and booths with food and drink were set up to fortify the visitors.

Nearby ןn the Greek Garden, dozens of families set up tents during the Shabbat and throughout the holiday, in order to be close to the festivities on Saturday night. This “Tent Festival” has taken place for more than a decade.

Later that night, hundreds of people crowded into David’s Tomb to study and learn until dawn.

Shavuot Festival

Shavuot Festival

During the holiday itself on Sunday, thousands of Jewish visitors came to David’s Tomb to celebrate. At the same time, a great number of Christian pilgrims came to visit the Cenacle, the Room of the Last Supper. (The stream of Christian visitors to this site has grown over the past few weeks because of different denominations’ Pentacost holidays.)

During the holiday there were several out-of-the ordinary visitors. One was a woman in a religious ecstasy, who was eventually escorted out by the police.

Blowing a shofar outside the Cenacle

Blowing a shofar outside the Cenacle

At the same time there were two Christian groups visiting the site. One was from the Far East, and a second was from North America:

Shortly afterwards, Window on Mt. Zion held its own Shavuot celebration with a fascinating lecture by Prof. Ilana Pardes on the story of David and Michal, and the transferring of the Holy Ark to Jerusalem. Afterward, Yisca Harani led a tour of Mount Zion and the David’s Tomb complex and the viewpoints of Judaism, Islam and Christianity to them. During the tour we met up with an additional group from the Far East, which sang songs and blessed passersby, many of them Haredi Jews on their way to David’s Tomb:

Reactions to the tour and lecture were very positive – thanks to all who came!

Print Friendly

Article in Moment Magazine on Mount Zion

June 13th, 2016

We’ve been updating you here about a number of events taking place on Mount Zion, via the Window on Mount Zion project. For a more extensive history and explanation of the issues surrounding Mount Zion, take a look at Eetta Prince-Gibson’s article (she’s also a Window on Mt. Zion volunteer) that appears in the May-June 2016 edition of Moment Magazine, “Mount Zion: Jerusalem’s Wild & Sacred Backyard.” Click here for a .pdf version.

Moment Magazine May-June 2016

Moment Magazine May-June 2016

Below is the full text of the article.

Mount Zion: Jerusalem’s Wild & Sacred Backyard

A few minutes’ walk from the Temple Mount, outside Jerusalem’s Old City walls, stands a stone building sacred to all three monotheistic religions. A sarcophagus on its first floor marks where Jewish tradition says King David is buried. On the second floor is the Cenacle—the room where the Last Supper, at which Jesus celebrated the Passover meal and washed the feet of his disciples, is said to have taken place. To Muslims, the entire structure has been holy since the Ottomans added a minaret and converted it into a mosque honoring King David, whom they consider a prophet, in the 16th century.

Here, religious time and space often collide. This past March, Holy Thursday coincided with Purim, the raucous, festive holiday that celebrates the downfall of Haman, the vizier who plotted to annihilate the Jews in Persia. For some Jews, the holiday is an occasion to assert Jewish power. For Christians, Holy Thursday is a time of humble contemplation and ritual. This year, in accordance with custom, Franciscan Father Pierbattista Pizzaballa, Custos (custodian) of the Holy Land, the highest-ranking official of the Catholic Church in the Middle East, has come to the Cenacle to wash the feet of 12 young students from the Jerusalem parish.

The ceremony opens as the kuwwas, traditional guardians of Christian holiness, dressed in red Ottoman fezzes and gold-embroidered crimson vests, swords at their sides, pound their silver staffs on the stone floor to make way for the Custos through the crowd of parents, tourists and pilgrims. Earlier, a group of young Jewish men in their early 20s, with long, curly sidelocks and torn jeans, tried to steal up the stairs to the Cenacle. Heavily deployed, watchful Israeli police chased the men away. “We have to tear down this shikutz,” one of the troublemakers said defiantly, using a particularly derogatory Yiddish term for “abomination.” “God will help us, King David will help us,” muttered another. “This whole mountain—this whole land!—belongs to the Jews. Merry Purim!”

At the height of the ceremony, piercing wails shatter the solemnity. Jewish students have barricaded themselves in a dorm room nearby and are blasting recorded sounds of the shofar through loudspeakers. While the police locate the protesters, break into their hideout and shut off the loudspeakers, a group of men wrapped in prayer shawls, some wearing tefillin, dance and sing as loudly as they can in the courtyard. “Utzu etza v’tufar…Take counsel and it will be foiled; speak a word and it will not succeed, for God is with us,” they chant. A middle-aged woman in modest garb—who comes daily from the ultra-Orthodox neighborhood of Mea Shearim—takes a video, she explains, to document “Christian offenses.” “They want to annihilate us, just like they always have, just like they wanted to on Purim,” she says.

Police close the doors to the Cenacle so that the ceremony can conclude. When the worshippers file out, passing by the dancing men, some of them clap their hands in rhythm; a few even try to sing along. Noam Sagiv, a Jewish student who has come to observe the Christian ceremony, smiles apologetically at a nun in a dark habit. “We understand,” the nun responds. “Lots of people get overwhelmed by their religion. Happy Purim.”

Such disruptions are not uncommon in the King David’s tomb-Cenacle complex, which is located in the heart of Mount Zion. Tensions may be mild compared to those between Muslims and Jews on the Temple Mount, but this 30-acre tract abutting the walls of the Old City to the west has troubles of its own. They do not involve sovereignty: Unlike the Old City, which was seized by the Jordanians in the 1948 war, the 2,500 foot-high hill is an uncontested part of West Jerusalem. The remains of Israeli defensive trenches from 1948, now overgrown with trees and grass, crisscross the rocky land. At its edge, with a panoramic view of West Jerusalem below, are the twisted iron remnants of the mechanism that operated the cable car used to transport wounded Israeli soldiers away to safety.

The problem boils down to coexistence. Unlike the Old City, which is divided into separate quarters for Jews, Muslims, Greek Orthodox Christians and Armenian Christians, Mount Zion is a jumble of dozens of sites, structures and partially excavated archaeological ruins, each imbued with religious, historic and nationalistic meaning. Any Muslim residents are long gone; only the minaret, the Ottoman architecture and a cemetery remain to indicate that Muslims controlled Mount Zion for centuries. But the Christian presence is strong, and monks and nuns of all denominations are part of daily life, as are their places of worship. The German Benedictines have their Dormition Abbey; the Italian Franciscans have the Terra Sancta Monastery; the French Assumptionists have the Church of St. Peter in Gallicantu; and the Armenians have the St. Saviour church. This last site is believed to be the house of Caiaphas, where Jesus was taken after being arrested, and nearby is a rock cave where Jesus may have been imprisoned. Then there are the dead, laid to rest in Protestant, Greek Orthodox and Armenian cemeteries, the last of which includes a large monument to the victims of the Armenian genocide. Buried in the Catholic cemetery is Oskar Schindler, the German industrialist who rescued Jews during the Holocaust. The Jews have Sambuski Cemetery, a Jewish potter’s field on a steep hill to the northeast where some now come to recite the Mourner’s Kaddish on the traditional date of the death of Moses.

Today, devout Jews and Christians mingle with tourists and pilgrims as they enter and exit the Old City through the Zion Gate. Some of the newcomers stay on the mountain, joining an ever-evolving cast of eccentrics. Recently, a small group of mostly middle-aged British and American Jewish men began gathering in a low stone building of unknown provenance, self-appointed to study the laws of the Sanhedrin—the ancient biblical court of the Land of Israel—in preparation for the imminent coming of the Messiah, the Son of David. Mount Zion, one of them explains, is the place where they believe the Messiah is most likely to return.

Why Mount Zion was left outside the walls erected by Ottoman Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent in the 16th century remains a mystery. It could have been because of the presence of the cemeteries, the relative unimportance of its landmarks in the eyes of the builders, the expense, or any number of other reasons. Legend has it that Suleiman was so angered by its exclusion that he had the hands of his two chief engineers cut off; in another telling, he had the men executed. Whatever the reason, the decision created a sort of no-man’s-land beyond the massive gate that shares its name.

“This is the backyard of Jerusalem,” says Ami Meitav, a Jerusalem official who headed a municipal committee tasked with conducting a survey of the buildings and residents on Mount Zion about a decade ago. But it’s a backyard “without clear ownership,” he adds, one that “no one cares enough about to take control.”

Into that power vacuum have stepped ultra-nationalist religious Jews who are transforming it into a microcosm of all that is both fearsome and hopeful in Israel, as well as a small group of Jewish activists who believe they can bring peace to Mount Zion, and perhaps through it, to all of Jerusalem.

No one really knows where biblical figures such as King David are buried. But during the early days of Christianity, legend singled out Mount Zion as the place where Mary, the mother of Jesus, fell asleep and died—not far from the room of the Last Supper. In the 5th century, a Byzantine bishop erected the Hagia Sion Church, which was destroyed in a siege in 614. By the 12th century, the first floor of a new church, built on or near its ruins, had come to be considered the room of the Last Supper.

It was around this time that Jewish tradition came to associate Mount Zion with King David’s burial place. The first historical Jewish reference to this comes from Jewish chronicler Benjamin of Tudela, who, writing around 1163, recounts a story about two Jews employed to dig a tunnel who came across David’s palace. “They proceeded until they reached a large hall, supported by pillars of marble, encrusted with gold and silver, and before which stood a table, with a golden scepter and crown,” the inveterate traveler wrote. “This was the sepulcher of David, King of Israel…”

Yisca Harani, an expert in early Christianity at Jerusalem’s Ben-Zvi Institute, insists that this and all the religious stories associated with Mount Zion should be taken with a grain of salt. “If King David were to come back to Jerusalem, he would not come to Mount Zion,” she says with a laugh. “Jesus wouldn’t, either. This was not their turf.” She adds: “Traditions surrounding the mountain probably have little to do with historical reality. But religious beliefs listen to the beating hearts of believers, not to the learned discussions of archaeologists and historians.”

Once the tomb assumed sacred status, religions began to compete for control of it. The Crusaders put in the Gothic cenotaph that marks the site and rebuilt the present-day Cenacle. Entrusted by the Pope as guardians of Christian shrines in the Holy Land, the Franciscans established a monastery, but quickly came into conflict with the Greek Orthodox Church and other Christian sects. Their skirmishes, as well as disputes over visitation rights between Christians and Jews, led Ottoman Sultan Suleiman (the same Suleiman who built the Old City walls) to take control of Mount Zion in the 16th century. He turned the entire building into a mosque and designated Sheikh Ahmad al Dajani—who was believed to be descended from the Prophet Mohammed’s grandson—and his heirs as the custodians of King David’s tomb.

The Dajanis—who added the appellation Daoudi (David) to their name—were tolerant custodians. Under their watchful eye, and for a fee, Christians were given the right to pray as individuals in the Cenacle. Muslims, who considered the entire structure a mosque, also prayed in the Cenacle—although separated from Christians by an iron fence. Downstairs, Jews, too, paid and prayed, especially on the holiday of Shavuot, which relates the story of Ruth the convert, who gave birth to the forefathers of King David. These policies continued for more than four centuries; in 1831, the Franciscans were even allowed to hold public prayer in the Cenacle twice a year, on Easter and on Pentecost.

The Dajani Daoudi family flourished, building homes for themselves on Mount Zion. Even from 1918 to 1948, they continued to fulfill their custodial role under the stern eyes of the British, who in 1928 cancelled the Franciscans’ right to conduct public prayer after an Italian heir to the throne allegedly tried to take control of the Cenacle.

For Jews, King David’s tomb remained overshadowed in importance by the Western Wall of the Temple Mount and other sacred places within the Old City walls. But that changed in 1948, when, following Israel’s War of Independence, the Jordanians took control of the Old City and forbade Israeli Jews from visiting Jewish holy sites. Suddenly, only Mount Zion remained in Jewish hands. Now it was the Jews who controlled religious and political realities. Israeli authorities expelled the Dajani Daoudis, who fled to East Jerusalem, and took over the now-abandoned Arab properties. In the main complex, the minaret was closed and Muslim services were no longer offered in the tomb chamber. Instead, full Jewish public worship was instituted. Christians still had the right to pray on the second-floor Cenacle as individuals but needed permission to conduct public worship services from the Mount Zion Committee, which fell under the jurisdiction of Israel’s Ministry of Religion. (Later, Israeli authorities approved five days of worship for the various Christian denominations, including Holy Thursday, Easter and Pentecost.)

Israeli officialdom was in conflict over how to respond to the new situation on Mount Zion, says Amnon Ramon, a prominent scholar of Christianity and a researcher at the Ben-Zvi Institute. On the one hand, the municipality of Jerusalem, along with the Ministry of Tourism, wanted Israeli policy to be welcoming and encouraging. “The city wanted Christian tourists to come to Mount Zion, since most of the other Christian sites were in Jordanian hands,” he says. “And the Foreign Ministry wanted Israel to make a great show of how liberal the State of Israel was.”

But the Ministry of Religion saw things differently and, as so often happens in Israel, ultimately had the upper hand. In 1949, Shlomo Zalman Kahana, the ministry’s director-general, decided to dedicate his life to turning Mount Zion into the religious heart of the Jewish state. He largely succeeded. Kahana invited institutions and individuals to take up residence on Mount Zion—including sculptor David Palombo (who designed the gates to the Knesset), whose widow continues to reside there; the artist-sculptor Perli Pelzig, whose son still lives there; and the owners of Jewish banquet halls that he established—giving them all buildings and land rights. Kahana personally reinstated and refashioned old religious ceremonies and designed new ones related to King David.

Under Kahana’s energetic ministry, Jews ascended to Mount Zion by the thousands, exposed to the crosshairs of watchful Jordanian snipers only a few yards away. They climbed to the roof of the mosque to peer out over the Old City and the Mount of Olives. This was the best vantage point in West Jerusalem from which to see the Old City. In a room near the minaret designated as the “President’s Room,” successive Israeli presidents held official ceremonies and greeted foreign dignitaries, pointing to the Temple Mount—only a short distance away, but inaccessible.

Although his authority to do so was unclear, in 1966 Kahana invited Rabbi Mordechai Goldstein, originally from Queens, New York, who was looking for a home for his new yeshiva in Israel, to establish the Diaspora Yeshiva on Mount Zion. Kahana even signed legally binding agreements that handed over ownership of abandoned properties, almost all of them originally belonging to the Dajani Daoudi family, to the yeshiva.

Just as Jews remember clambering to the rooftop of the mosque to mourn their lost Western Wall during this period, members of the Dajani Daoudi family recall ascending minarets in the Old City to view their lost properties, says Mohammed Dajani Daoudi, who to this day is in possession of the ceremonial keys to King David’s tomb. His home office in East Jerusalem is lined with photographs of his extended family, many of them taken on Mount Zion, in the properties the family no longer owns. Only the family cemetery remains under the family’s control. “It is too painful, even now, for me to come up to Mount Zion,” says Dajani Daoudi, a former professor at al-Quds University in East Jerusalem and a forceful and rare Palestinian public voice for Israeli-Palestinian reconciliation. “The memories are too strong.”

With the 1967 Six-Day War and Israel’s capture of the Old City, Jews once again could return to the Western Wall. Sidelined, Mount Zion was left to the devices of its residents and, in particular, the Diaspora Yeshiva, which would play a key role in fulfilling Kahana’s dream of a monolithic Jewish presence. In the heady 1960s, the moment was right for Goldstein to create a coed yeshiva dedicated to young, primarily American, Jews seeking spiritual meaning. Goldstein brought a neo-Hasidic approach to the cavernous buildings on Mount Zion, taking in just about any young Jew without demanding that they forgo their long hair, torn jeans and bohemian skirts. He encouraged the students to turn their musical talents to Judaism, and from 1975 to 1983, the Diaspora Yeshiva band offered free Saturday night concerts that attracted hundreds to hear their klezmer-twanged mix of acid rock, bluegrass and folk music.

As more students arrived, the yeshiva—with the approval of the Ministry of Religion—took over buildings surrounding the tomb for classrooms, study halls, prayer rooms and dormitories. As students met and married, Goldstein renovated, opening schools that served hundreds of children born on Mount Zion. But gradually, that era passed. Today, says Abraham Goldstein, Mordechai Goldstein’s son and successor, the yeshiva is a “regular, staid, Orthodox yeshiva,” although many students, American and Israeli, are marginalized or at-risk youths.

Over the past few years, the yeshiva has also been home to hundreds of Israeli Jewish nationalists known as “hilltop youth”—young, fanatical settlers, many of whom have been banished from the West Bank with restraining orders issued by Israeli security forces. These youths have adopted a virulently anti-Arab and increasingly anti-Christian credo. Although there have been few arrests, they are largely assumed by police to be responsible for dozens of hate crimes on Mount Zion, repeatedly defacing and even attempting to torch Christian sites, desecrating Christian cemeteries and spray-painting offensive graffiti to obliterate Arabic signs. In 2013, there were 22 attacks on Christian property alone, up from 11 in 2011, according to the Jerusalem Inter-Church Centre, a joint project of the churches in Jerusalem, the World Council of Churches and the Middle East Council of Churches. Some young Jews have also renewed the dubious practice once observed by some religious Jews in pre-Holocaust Eastern Europe of spitting at Christian clergy.

Goldstein says that the yeshiva is doing all it can to distance itself from these youths. “We do not encourage violence of this kind in any way,” says the rabbi, who sent a letter to the Franciscans apologizing for the disruption of the Holy Thursday ceremony. But, he adds, “We are a large yeshiva, with a lot of open space, and we cannot be held responsible for everyone who tries to join our ranks.”

Goldstein and the Diaspora Yeshiva have played a part in fomenting anti-Christian attitudes—in particular fears that the State of Israel intends to sign an agreement with the Vatican to give the Pope control over the David’s tomb-Cenacle complex. These fears stem from Papal visits to Mount Zion in 2000, 2009 and 2014, which led the Franciscans to renew demands that Israel allow them to hold full Eucharist services in the Cenacle, including the consumption of the holy wafer and wine. According to the current status quo, the wafer and wine, which Catholics believe to be the body and blood of Christ, are not permitted in the building because they would desecrate the Jewish worship space in the tomb chamber on the first floor.

The Franciscans also asked for the right to celebrate Mass in the morning a few times a week before the site is open to visitors. “We don’t want to transform the Upper Room into a church, we don’t want the property, we don’t want sovereignty,” Father Pizzaballa said in statements published in the press around the time of Pope Francis’s 2014 visit. “We want the right to pray there.” The requests were part of longtime negotiations between the Vatican and Israeli officials regarding formalization of all aspects of their diplomatic relationship. The Israeli government, however, has publicly declared that it has no intention of changing the status quo, and none of the Popes, including Pope Francis, performed the Eucharist in the Cenacle.

Goldstein acknowledges that nothing has happened to substantiate his fears of Vatican control, but he says he is still worried. He has signed numerous petitions denouncing the purported intention to “give away” Jewish holy sites and has helped organize several demonstrations. And while he denounces the violence, he also says that he understands it. “Of course I believe that no Jew would hand sovereignty over such a holy place to a non-Jew,” he says. “But there are people who, out of greed or maybe because they believe that giving in to the goyim is in the best interest of the State of Israel, might allow Christian worship.”

And that, he continues, “would be intolerable. Jewish law forbids us to have a synagogue in a building used for idol worship. And Catholic services are idol worship.”
Only a few yards from the main offices of the yeshiva and from David’s tomb is the massive stone structure of the Dormition Abbey, whose high-domed bell tower dominates the horizon. Father Gregory Collins, the current head of the abbey, wears the hooded, rough-hewn robe and large silver cross of the Benedictines. Originally from Belfast, Father Gregory took up his position here a few years ago, and his Irish-lilted English echoes musically through the vast halls.

The church opens to the public several times a year, and crowds of Israeli Jews enjoy attending the annual Christmas Eve services. Father Gregory notes with amusement that he “may be the only clergyman who is called to preach on Christmas Eve to a church full of Jews.” He understands the complexity of the situation: “I come from Northern Ireland,” he says. “I know the pain of the decades of conflict, religious and political. We must recognize each other’s humanity, whatever our faiths or beliefs. We Christians have not always upheld this, but it is what we must seek.”

But Father Nikodemus Schnabel, a young, energetic man with a kindly manner, says sadly that “a day doesn’t go by that someone doesn’t spit on me. Sometimes, I prefer not to wear my robes outside of the Abbey, in order to avoid unpleasant interactions, especially if I have to walk down ‘Spit Alley,’” referring to the narrow walkway between the walls of the Abbey and the walls of the Greek Orthodox cemetery that leads from the Diaspora Yeshiva to David’s tomb.

“I am also hopeful and thankful to the many Jews and Muslims who came up to express their solidarity, have helped us rebuild our cemeteries, and volunteer to help us keep law and order,” Father Nikodemus continues. And while he notes that the municipality did, in fact, erase the graffiti “quickly and efficiently, it angers me that the authorities do not do more to put a stop to this behavior.”

The damage to Benedictine property is light compared to the destruction that has occurred at the King David’s tomb-Cenacle complex. Historically, each religion has appropriated space from the religion that came before it, attempting to erase the memory of its presence. The building is now a layer cake of religious architecture. The classic vaulted ceilings of the Cenacle bear testimony to the Crusader-era church, while in the tomb, a mihrab—a semicircular niche in the wall that points toward Mecca—is only partially hidden by a large, recently installed Formica bookcase filled with Jewish religious texts. Verses from the Quran decorate intricate stained glass windows, and in the southwest corner, next to the exit, is an Islamic-style cupola.

But more recently, extremists have tried to physically eradicate the remainders of Christian and Muslim inhabitance. Until 2012, the Ben-Zvi Institute’s Ramon says, the interior walls of the tomb chamber were covered with tiles hand-painted with leaves, flowers and geometrical shapes in shades of green and turquoise. Since the establishment of the state, right-wing Jews have seen these tiles as an affront to Jewish sovereignty, and in 1950, the renowned poet Uri Zvi Greenberg symbolically smashed a few of them in an attempt to assert Jewish dominance on the Mount.

In the early morning of December 20, 2012, policemen found two men in ultra-Orthodox garb attempting to destroy the tiles. The men were dismissed as deranged, especially when one explained that he had to break the tiles because their glaze was preventing him from getting a shidduch (an arranged marriage). The tomb remained unguarded and two weeks later, others—also suspected to be religious Jews—destroyed almost every tile.

The Israel Antiquities Authority appointed a committee of experts that concluded the tiles could and should be replicated and replaced, and there were even negotiations to bring in artisans from Turkey. But then the Authority reversed its decision, stating that the destruction had inadvertently improved the site by exposing the original ancient rock walls. “A serious act of vandalism, a string of coincidences and a decision by the Israel Antiquities Authority have combined to change the character of King David’s tomb on Mount Zion, holy to Judaism, Islam and Christianity,” says Ramon. “For the first time since the 16th century, someone tried to erase every last trace of the building’s Muslim character.”

Ramon says that lack of governmental oversight has handed David’s tomb over to the ultra-Orthodox. Just a few years ago, the tomb was open to all, with no separation between men and women. But when an Orthodox Jewish philanthropist made a large contribution, dividers were set up to create men’s and women’s sections, and a wooden ark with Torah scrolls was brought in. The donation—made under the auspices of the National Center for the Development of the Holy Sites, which belongs to the Ministry of Religion—turned David’s tomb into an Orthodox synagogue that is administered by the Diaspora Yeshiva.

“The state has abdicated its responsibility and left Mount Zion in chaos,” says Ramon. “It has been taken over by extremists enthralled with Jewish power who want to Judaize the mountain and remove all traces of its non-Jewish history.”

Several years ago, The Jerusalem Foundation, the city’s largest philanthropic organization—which is dedicated to promoting pluralism and was founded by legendary Jerusalem mayor Teddy Kollek—invited the Jerusalem Intercultural Center (JICC) to move onto Mount Zion into a large, abandoned building near David’s Tomb. The JICC’s mission is to increase civic involvement of all of Jerusalem’s diverse communities in determining the management and future of the city.

As the JICC took up residence, its leaders were struck by the chaos. They connected with another NGO, the Washington, DC-based Search for Common Ground that also maintains offices in Jerusalem, to establish Window to Mount Zion, which has tried to focus on creating a more peaceful reality on the mountain. Eran Tzidkiyahu, co-project coordinator from SCF, and Merav Horovitz, co-project coordinator from JICC, regularly organize tours for the public and maintain a dedicated group of volunteers to keep an eye out for trouble and help the police to maintain law and order.

On one of these tours, Tzidkiyahu points to a sign at the entrance to the Cenacle. “A sign like this could only be invented in Jerusalem and only on Mount Zion,” he quips. Written in Hebrew, English and Arabic is a list of “instructions for behavior at the Room of the Last Supper.” One of them states that it is also forbidden to bring in “food and drink”—a pointed reference, Tzidkiyahu explains, to the wafer and wine Christians need in order to hold a Eucharist service. He points to another part of the sign. “This informs visitors that this is a holy site,” he says. “But actually, under Israeli law, the Cenacle is not a holy site. Despite its holiness, it has no particular legal standing.”

Window to Mount Zion is not alone in decrying the tangle of contradictory responsibilities spread among numerous institutions. Right-wing Jerusalem city councilman Aryeh King calls it “an absurdly chaotic situation, with an unknown number of different authorities with unclear responsibilities.” No one, he says, “not the government ministries, not the municipality, not anybody, supervises or is even aware of what is going on there.”

According to King, “no one is really sure exactly who is responsible for what on Mount Zion,” thanks to a combination of ancient agreements, Kahana’s machinations, and the activities of the Israeli Custodian of Abandoned (Arab) Property, the Jewish National Fund, the Authority for the Development of East Jerusalem and multiple other city authorities. The rabbi of the Western Wall is also involved, due to the location of Jewish holy sites on the Mount. Even Amidar, a state-owned company responsible for public housing, is part of the mix. “At some point—who knows when—Amidar was given control of the President’s Room,” says Ramon, barely concealing his smile as he considers just how ridiculous this is.

David Solomon, employed by the Ministry of Religion as site director for the David’s tomb area, agrees. He watches as a young man in ultra-Orthodox garb invites tourists to light candles and receive a blessing—all for the modest sum of NIS 10 ($2.50). Solomon angrily chases him away. “There are so many charlatans like this man roaming around here, making a small fortune, and there is no one to protect the unsuspecting tourists,” he says. “There is no one to take responsibility here.”

Ami Meitav, the municipal official who describes Mount Zion as Jerusalem’s backyard, adds that the lack of responsibility and accountability extends to the churches, too, including the Greek Orthodox Church, one of Jerusalem’s largest landowners. “The Greek Orthodox Church is responsible for the large field commonly called the Greek Garden, but has left it uncared for,” he says. “Yet they refuse to allow the municipality to build a sports field there—even though it would serve their students, too.”

Speaking on condition of anonymity, an official at the Foreign Ministry says that ministry officials are aware of the chaos on Mount Zion, but that in the absence of a dedicated foreign minister, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (who, due to coalition considerations, also holds the position of foreign minister) just doesn’t have the time or inclination to attempt to bring order to this religiously, politically and diplomatically delicate situation. Or perhaps, adds the official, not caring is a way of promoting a nationalistic political agenda without taking responsibility for it.

After a series of incidents last January, during which extremists spray-painted graffiti on the Dormition Abbey, Window to Mount Zion successfully pushed for police presence to be increased. The group also convened a “tenants’ meeting” for all of the individuals, groups and institutions that make their home on Mount Zion. Greek Orthodox, Armenian and Catholic monks of various sects, Protestant pastors and Ashkenazi and Sephardic rabbis filed into a room at the JICC building along with uniformed policemen and volunteers. “It was probably the first time in 1,500 years of interreligious strife,” says Hagai Agmon-Snir, director of JICC, “that all of the people on the mountain actually sat down together.”

The meeting, he says, addressed prosaic aspects of life—garbage removal, parking spaces, future zoning. “That’s part of being neighbors, too,” he says, “even for sacred and historical institutions.” The meeting also addressed the graffiti, and all the residents signed a statement harshly condemning the acts and calling for the maintenance of “the delicate fabric of coexistence.” It was the first of many such meetings that Tzidkiyahu hopes will allow Mount Zion’s disparate inhabitants to begin to create a new vision together.

Meanwhile, Tzidkiyahu has a suggestion of his own. Although the city government is currently promoting a plan to turn Dung Gate into an official tourist entrance to the Old City, he would like to see Mount Zion become the access point. “An entrance through Zion Gate would create a narrative of tolerance and coexistence, a spiritual entrance that would invite us all to imagine a different world,” he says.

Tzidkiyahu believes that Mount Zion offers the State of Israel an opportunity to change history. “For millennia, religions have fought over this holy site,” he says. “Now, in the 21st century, we have an opportunity to create a different model of coexistence, based on inclusivity and trust.”

Print Friendly

Special Jerusalem Day Tour of Mount Zion, by Window on Mount Zion

June 9th, 2016

What is a more typical way to commemorate Jerusalem Day than a day on Mount Zion?

Learning about Mt. Zion

Learning about Mt. Zion

The Window to Mount Zion project was fortunate to be a part of A Different Day in Jerusalem, an alternative way to celebrate and re-claim Jerusalem Day. The activity featured a tour of Mount Zion and its major sites, with an emphasis on the status quo agreements and tolerance. The tour surveyed historic events that have fashioned the approaches of various residents of and visitors to Mount Zion. During the tour the participants heard about the delicate relations and coexistence that have been forged among the different residents. Participants met with two – Deputy Director of the Diaspora Yeshiva, Eli Dan, and a monk from the Dormition community, Father Daniel. Each presented Mount Zion from his viewpoint, and told of the challenges and opportunities in inter-religious relations.

Meeting with Father Daniel

Meeting with Father Daniel

“The tour was fascinating as far as I was concerned,” said one participant. “It began with the diverse group who participated – young and old, Jerusalemites and not, who came to hear about the complexities and the successes in living together in such a volatile place. As the tour progressed, we heard little anecdotes that described the unique texture of the Mount, such as the broken nose on King David’s statue that has intentionally not been fixed. The timing of the tour, together with the many (and varied) groups that passed us throughout, strengthened the experience and the understandings that I came away with from the tour.”

Meeting with Eli Dan, Diaspora Yeshiva

Meeting with Eli Dan, Diaspora Yeshiva

Print Friendly

Window to Mt. Zion – Documenting the Mount

June 3rd, 2016

We see a lot of different people here on Mt. Zion – Jews, Christians, Muslims, all groups, all ages.

Opera singers on Mt. Zion

Opera singers on Mt. Zion

But we don’t often see opera singers.

Until this past Saturday night, on May 28, as part of the Jerusalem Municipality’s Festival of Light.

Festival of Light

Festival of Light

At the same time, nearby at David’s Tomb, a musical experience from an entirely different world was taking place – and traditional Saturday night Melave Malkah feast – Hassidic songs and dancing into the night.

Melave Malka

Melave Malka

Opera and Hassidic songs, both on one Mount. Only in Jerusalem!

Singing and dancing into the night

Singing and dancing into the night

Thanks to Window on Mt. Zion for the documentation.

Here’s the Facebook post in Hebrew:

And a few videos.

Print Friendly