By Bob Allen
Christian organizations around the world are asking members to sign an online petition protesting plans by Israel’s interior ministry to build a military academy on the Mount of Olives, a holy site for three world religions made even more sensitive by Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories in the West Bank.
The Baptist Peace Fellowship in the United Kingdom recently joined the Change.org petition voicing concern about plans for an eight-story structure overlooking the Old City in Jerusalem to be used as an academy for training senior commanders in the military.
The New Testament describes the Mount of Olives as the route from Bethany to Jerusalem and the place where Jesus wept over Jerusalem. At its base is the Garden of Gethsemane, where Jesus prayed and was arrested prior to his crucifixion. It’s also the site of Jesus’ final meeting with the disciples before his Ascension in the opening chapter of the Book of Acts.
Bob Gardiner, president of the Baptist Peace Fellowship and former pastor of Harrow Baptist Church in London, objected to locating a military facility on such a “sensitive site.”
“This place where Jesus refused to take arms to prevent his arrest by temple guards has long been place of pilgrimage and a symbol of peace,” Gardiner wrote on a blog for non-Israeli citizens titled Peace on the Mount of Olives. “In addition, the proposed site lies in an area the responsibility for which has remained disputed for many years, and therefore the plan to build a military academy there is also particularly provocative.”
The Jewish Cemetery on the Mount of Olives is Jerusalem’s oldest and still in use today. People been buried there for 3,000 years, due to its association with apocalyptic prophecy in the Book of Zechariah.
Islamic tradition teaches that at the end of days the resurrected will walk across a bridge connecting the Mount of Olives and the Dome of the Rock mosque.
Jerusalem’s mayor has touted the school as a way to attract young, working people to the city. The interior ministry says the location was chosen for its proximity to Hebrew University, allowing soldiers to take advantage of university courses during their studies.
The proposed college will accommodate nearly 400 students and 130 professors. It would also move more government and military facilities into the eastern part of Jerusalem, likely opening the way for expansion of Jewish settlements that the international community regard as illegal.
Israeli officials granted preliminary approval for construction in June. Fliers were posted in October advertising a 60-day period for input before a final vote.
As of Dec. 12, about 750 names were signed online to a petition suggesting moving the campus to a less-controversial location.
“A press release published by the Israeli Ministry of Interior said that other sites in Jerusalem were examined, but this was found to be ‘optimal,’” the petition reads. “On the contrary, we fear that this development could be seen as a provocative act, taking Jerusalem yet further away from becoming a city of peace.”