The Mount of Olives (also Mount Olivet, Hebrew: הר הזיתים , Har HaZeitim; Arabic: جبل الزيتون, الطور , Jebel az-Zeitun) is a mountain ridge east of Jerusalem's Old City in East Jerusalem. It is named for the olive groves that once covered its slopes. It is said by believers that Jesus gave an end-time prophecy at this location. The Mount of Olives is associated predominantly with Jewish and Christian traditions but also contains several sites important in Islam. The mount has been used as a Jewish cemetery for over 3,000 years and holds approximately 150,000 graves.
The Mount of Olives is one of three peaks of a mountain ridge which runs for 3.5 km just east of Old Jerusalem across the Kidron Valley, in this area called the Valley of Josaphat. The peak to its north is Mount Scopus, at 826 m, while the peak to its south is the Mount of Corruption, at 747. The highest point on the Mount of Olives is at-Tur, at 818 meters (2,683 ft). The ridge acts as a watershed, and its eastern side is the beginning of the Judean Desert.
The ridge is formed of oceanic sedimentary rock from the Late Cretaceous, and contains a soft chalk and a hard flint. While the chalk is easily quarried, it is not a suitable strength for construction, which is why the Mount was never built up, and instead features many man-made burial caves.
From Biblical times until the present, Jews have been buried on the Mount of Olives. The necropolis on the southern ridge, the location of the modern village of Silwan, was the burial place of Jerusalem's most important citizens in the period of the Biblical kings. There are an estimated 150,000 graves on the Mount, including tombs traditionally associated with Zechariah and Absalom. On the upper slope, the traditional Tomb of the Prophets Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi is situated. Notable rabbis buried on the mount include Chaim ibn Attar and others from the 15th-century to present.
Roman soldiers from the 10th Legion camped on the Mount during the Siege of Jerusalem in the year 70 CE. The religious ceremony marking the start of a new month was held on the Mount of Olives in the days of the Second Temple. After the destruction of the Temple, Jews celebrated the festival of Sukkot on the Mount of Olives. They made pilgrimages to the Mount of Olives because it was 80 meters higher than the Temple Mount and offered a panoramic view of the Temple site. It became a traditional place for lamenting the Temple's destruction, especially on Tisha B'Av. In 1481, an Italian Jewish pilgrim, Rabbi Meshulam Da Volterra, wrote: "And all the community of Jews, every year, goes up to Mount Zion on the day of Tisha B'Av to fast and mourn, and from there they move down along Yoshafat Valley and up to Mount of Olives. From there they see the whole Temple (the Temple Mount) and there they weep and lament the destruction of this House."In the mid-1850s, the villagers of Silwan were paid £100 annually by the Jews in an effort to prevent the desecration of graves on the mount.
Prime Minister of Israel Menachem Begin asked to be buried on the Mount of Olives near the grave of Etzel member Meir Feinstein, rather than Mount Herzl national cemetery.
Following the 1948 Arab–Israeli War, Jordan obligated itself within the framework of the 3 April 1949 Armistice Agreement to allow "free access to the holy sites and cultural institutions and use of the cemeteries on the Mount of Olives."However, during the 19 year Jordanian occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem the terms were not upheld. Non-Israeli Christian pilgrims were allowed to visit the Mount, but Jews of all countries and most non-Jewish Israeli citizens were barred from entering Jordan and therefore were unable to travel to the area.
By the end of 1949, and throughout the Jordanian occupation of the site, some Arab residents uprooted tombstones and plowed the land in the cemeteries and an estimated 38,000 tombstones were damaged in total. During this period, four roads were paved through the cemeteries, in the process destroying graves including those of famous persons. Jordan's King Hussein permitted the construction of the Intercontinental Hotel at the summit of the Mount of Olives together with a road that cut through the cemetery which destroyed hundreds of Jewish graves, some from the First Temple Period. Graves were also demolished for parking lots and a filling station and were even used in latrines at a Jordanian Army barracks.
Following the 1967 Six-Day War and the Israeli capture of East Jerusalem, its government began restoration work and re-opened the cemetery for burials. Israel's 1980 unilateral annexation of East Jerusalem was condemned as a violation of international law and ruled null and void by the UN Security Council in UNSC Resolution 478.
As of 2010, the Jewish cemetery on the Mount of Olives is targeted regularly by vandals. Mourners have been assaulted. Notable graves that have been defaced by vandals include those of the Gerrer Rebbe and Menahem Begin.
On 6 November 2010, an international watch-committee was set up by Diaspora Jews with the aim of reversing the desecration of the Jewish cemetery. According to one of the founders, the initiative was triggered by witnessing tombstones that were wrecked with "the kind of maliciousness that defies the imagination."
The Mount of Olives is first mentioned in connection with David 's flight from Absalom (II Samuel 15:30): "And David went up by the ascent of the Mount of Olives, and wept as he went up."The ascent was probably east of the City of David, near the village of Silwan. The sacred character of the mount is alluded to in the Ezekiel (11:23): "And the glory of the Lord went up from the midst of the city, and stood upon the mountain which is on the east side of the city."
The biblical designation Mount of Corruption, or in Hebrew Har HaMashchit(I Kings 11:7–8), derives from the idol worship there, begun by King Solomon building altars to the gods of his Moabite and Ammonite wives on the southern peak, "on the mountain which is before (east of) Jerusalem"(Kings I 11:17), just outside the limits of the holy city. This site was infamous for idol worship throughout the First Temple period, until king of Judah, Josiah, finally destroyed "the high places that were before Jerusalem, to the right of Har HaMashchit..."(II Kings 23:13)
An apocalyptic prophecy in the Book of Zechariah states that Yahweh will stand on the Mount of Olives and the mountain will split in two, with one half shifting north and one half shifting south (Zechariah 14:4). According to the Masoretic Text, people will flee through this newly-formed valley to a place called Azal (Zechariah 14:5). The Septuagint (LXX) has a different reading of Zechariah 14:5 stating that a valley will be blocked up as it was blocked up during the earthquake during King Uzziah 's reign. Jewish historian Flavius Josephus mentions in Antiquities of the Jews that the valley in the area of the King's Gardens was blocked up by landslide rubble during Uzziah's earthquake. Israeli geologists Wachs and Levitte identified the remnant of a large landslide on the Mount of Olives directly adjacent to this area. Based on geographic and linguistic evidence, Charles Simon Clermont-Ganneau, a 19 -century linguist and archeologist in Palestine, theorized that the valley directly adjacent to this landslide is Azal. This evidence accords with the LXX reading of Zechariah 14:5 which states that the valley will be blocked up as far as Azal. The valley he identified (which is now known as Wady Yasul in Arabic, and Nahal Etzel in Hebrew) lies southof both Jerusalem and the Mount of Olives.
Many Jews have wanted to be buried on the Mount of Olives "since antiquity,"based on the Jewish tradition (from the Biblical verse Zechariah 14:4) that when the Messiah comes, the resurrection of the dead will begin there.
The Mount of Olives is frequently mentioned in the New Testament (Matthew 21:1;26:30, etc.) as the route from Jerusalem to Bethany and the place where Jesus stood when he wept over Jerusalem. Jesus is said to have spent time on the mount, teaching and prophesying to his disciples (Matthew 24–25), including the Olivet discourse, returning after each day to rest (Luke 21:37), and also coming there on the night of his betrayal (Matthew 26:39). At the foot of the Mount of Olives lies the Garden of Gethsemane. The New Testament, tells how Jesus and his friends sang together – "When they had sung the hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives"Gospel of Matthew 26:30. Jesus ascended to heaven from the Mt of Olives as recorded in the book of Acts 1:9–12.
The Arab neighborhood of at-Tur is located on the mountain's summit, and the Mount Scopus campuses of both the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and the Brigham Young University Jerusalem Center abuts the mount on the north. Landmarks on the Mount of Olives include Yad Avshalom, the Tomb of Zechariah, the Church of all Nations, the Church of Maria Magdalene, Dominus Flevit Church, Chapel of the Ascension, Gethsemane, Mary's Tomb, Church of the Pater Noster, the Seven Arches Hotel, Orson Hyde Park and Beit Orot. At the foot of the mountain lies Emek Tzurim National Park and the Temple Mount Antiquities Salvage Operation.