June 22, 2016
Border Police officers at the King David Tomb compound, Jerusalem, June 1, 2015.Yair Ettinger read more: http://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/1.726345
Religious tensions roiled anew on Mount Zion this week
when police detained five of some dozens of enraged Jewish
extremists who attempted to disrupt Pentecostal prayers
held by hundreds of Greek Orthodox worshipers.
As the Greek Orthodox procession made its way on Monday to
the compound that houses the Cenacle, the presumed site of
the Room of the Last Supper, and the presumed Tomb of King
David, the Jewish demonstrators with flowing ear locks and
large knitted yarmulkes screamed, booed and blew shofars
at the worshipers.
As the procession made its way up the narrow stairs to the
Cenacle, Jewish demonstrators, held back by Border Police
and riot control teams, could be heard shouting: “We
will tear down this abomination,” and, “you are
The procession was led by kuwwas, the traditional
guardians of Christian holiness, wearing crimson fez-like
hats. They pounded wooden staffs on the ancient stone
walkways to make way for the bishop, the head of the local
Greek Orthodox clergy lead a procession to Pentecost prayers at Mt. Zion, June 19, 2016.Window on Mt. Zion courtesy read more: http://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/1.726345
Resplendent in heavy white robes embroidered in gold
threat, the bishop was followed by scores of priests and
religious officials, all dressed in long back head gear,
and hundreds of pilgrims, all chanting liturgies in
At the height of the ceremony, a small group from the
Greek Orthodox, led by the bishop, came down the stairs
and entered the Tomb of King David, escorted by the
police. The Jewish protestors grew more frenzied.
“The Jewish people lives forever!” King David
lives forever!” one screamed. “May the name of
your so-called God be blotted out forever,” cursed
another. “Nazi,” someone screamed at the police.
Seemingly oblivious to the crowd, the Greek Orthodox
worshipers stayed in the Tomb only a few moments then went
back up the stairs.
The last supper room in Jerusalem, Cenacle, Mount Zion, 2008.Wikicommons read more: http://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/1.726345
A man dressed in ultra-Orthodox garb, who would only
give his name as “Tzvi from Jerusalem,” stood by
with tears in his eyes.
“It hurts me that they are letting these goyyim
(non-Jews) come here,” he said. “It hurts me
that these evil men, who have oppressed the Jews
throughout history, are being allowed to contaminate our
holy sites. And it hurts me even more that the police, led
by our Jewish government, are allowing them to do
Scenes like this occur often on Mount Zion. The 30-acre
mountain that spreads out to the west from the Zion Gate
holds a jumble of Christian churches from many different
denominations, abandoned Muslim shrines, active and
abandoned Jewish, Christian and Muslim cemeteries, and
archaeological digs, along remnants of the War of
Independence and the Six-Day War.
It is also home to artists and sculptors, including the
widow of sculptor David Palombo, who designed the gates to
the Knesset; banquet halls and the somber Chamber of the
Holocaust, Israel’s first national Holocaust museum,
which predates Yad Vashem by several years.
Across the conquests though the centuries, by Christians,
Muslims, British, and, most recently, by Israel, members
of various religious faiths have lived here together,
sometimes in peace, at times in war, and most often
according to carefully-set arrangements between them.
Mount Zion was central to Israeli national and religious
observance following the War of Independence, because it
was the only site in East Jerusalem held by Israel and
because it offered views into the Old City and its sacred
sites, held off-limits by the Jordanians to Jews and
Israelis. The Mount was subsequently neglected after the
Six-Day War, when the Old City was returned to Israeli
But in recent years, various Jewish groups have tried to
reclaim the centrality of Mount Zion. Fueled by religious
zealotry, some of them are hill-top youth prevented by
security authorities from being in the West Bank, and have
instead made Mount Zion their home.
Tensions have increased particularly since a visit by Pope
Francis in 2014, when rumors circulated that Israel
intends to cede parts of Mount Zion, including David’s
Tomb, to the Vatican and other Christian institutions.
Israeli officials have repeatedly denied these rumors.
The extremists aren’t convinced, though.
“There are Jews who would sell away that that is most
precious to the Jewish people,” says one of the young
activists. “They have forgotten what it means to be
Jewish. To be proud and defend the land. We will be the
Part of the Jewish extremists’ plan of defense has
included defacing churches and their property, desecrating
Christian cemeteries, and spitting on and verbally
accosting priests and monks.
According to activists from “Window on Mount
Zion,” a project sponsored by the Jerusalem
Intercultural Center and Search for Common Ground, there
has been relative calm over the past few months, thanks in
part to police station established on Mount Zion last
According to various agreements, Christians are entitled
to observe communal worship in the Cenacle five times a
year, including the Pentecost. For individual prayer, the
room is open to all. King David’s Tomb, which has
unofficially been turned into a synagogue, is open for
Jewish communal and individual prayer at all times.
This week, the trouble began well before the Greek
Orthodox observance. There are three observances of
Pentecost in Jerusalem, and the Armenians celebrated
theirs on Sunday afternoon.
In the early hours of Sunday morning, several Jewish
extremists barricaded themselves in David’s Tomb,
apparently mistakenly believing the Armenians would be
granted the right to enter David’s Tomb – which,
in fact, is part only of the Greek Orthodox tradition.
They protesters were removed, detained, and issued
restraining orders banning them from the site.
But others returned early on Monday morning and tried once
again to take control over the site, and by 7 A.M., dozens
had already gathered near the scene. In carefully
choreographed arrangements, police allowed early morning
Jewish prayers on Monday morning, then closed the tomb to
visitors until after the Greek Orthodox prayer and set up
In prior coordination with the police, Rabbi Aaron Yitzhak
Stern from Bnei Brak, unofficially appointed by adherents
as the “Rabbi of Mount Zion,” removed the Torah
scrolls from David’s Tomb then returned them after the
Christians had concluded their prayers. Also in
coordination with police, the Greek worshipers did not
bring any Christian symbols, icons, or incense into the
Some two dozen volunteers from Window on Mount Zion were
visibly present in their distinctive yellow vests. Project
coordinator Merav Horowitz-Stein said they provided
“another set of eyes, and individuals who can try to
reason with the extremists from any side and explain the
situation to the tourists.”
Police acknowledged that the volunteers, who tried to
engage the protestors in discussion and explain the
commotion to foreigners, played a crucial role in
maintaining the relative calm.
In Christian belief, Pentecost marks the fiftieth day
after the Last Supper [after Pascha—O.C.], on which
the Holy Spirit entered each of the Holy Apostles.
Teaching them to speak in foreign languages, the Spirit
instructed the Apostles to spread the world of
Christianity throughout the world. To many, the holiday
thus marks the actual founding of the Christian Church.
“The tradition of King David and the psalms is
particularly significant to the Greek Orthodox,”
Yisca Harani, an expert in Christianity from the Yad Ben
Tzvi Institute, explains to Haaretz. They come to the tomb
Harani says the Pentecost observance has much in common
with the Jewish holiday of Shavu’ot. “There is a
clear parallel between the way that the Jews believe they
received the Torah from Moses from Mount Sinai and the way
Christians believe that the Holy Spirit came down to the
apostles. And both are based on the number fifty.
“Observances like this provide an opportunity and a
demand from the State of Israel to truly provide freedom
of worship and equality for all,” Harani says.
Several police officials noted with satisfaction that
“overall, the events passed without incident”
and that the police had been able to find a “balance
between the right to protest and the lack of any right to
violently disrupt anyone else’s right to prayer.”
But as the crowds dispersed, one of the protesters made it
clear that he and fellow demonstrators had no intention of
backing down. “The goyyim got their way this time.
But they won’t the next time. King David lives
forever! The people of Israel lives forever!”