The Mount of Olives (Mount Olivet), just east of Old Jerusalem, was named for the olive trees that used to cover its hills. It has been used for a Jewish cemetery for over 3,000 years and holds about 150,000 graves. In the book of Acts (of the Apostles), the Mount of Olives is described as the place from which Jesus ascended into Heaven.
Jews have wanted to be buried on the Mount of Olives since antiquity, based on the Jewish belief that, when the Messiah comes, the resurrection of the dead will begin there.
Jewish authorities have often objected to bringing flowers to the grave. There are Talmudic mentions of spices and twigs used in burial but the prevailing view is that bringing flowers smacks of a pagan custom.
In the Jewish faith, it is customary to leave a small stone on visited graves. The stones might be obtained by the mourner beforehand from a place of significance to the visitor and/or the deceased. The visitor positions the stone on the grave using their left hand. Placing a stone on the grave serves as a sign to others that someone has visited the grave.
Another story is that, at the end of days, God will raise the dead and they will help rebuild the temple. The stones are there to help them rebuild.
The Mount of Olives contains a soft chalk and a hard flint. The chalk is is not a suitable strength for construction which is why the Mount was never built up and instead features many burial sites.
The Judean mountain ridge that runs for over 2 miles east of Jerusalem includes three peaks, the Mount of Olives, Mount Scopus, and the Mount of Corruption, so named because of the idol worship that once took place there. The eastern side of the Mount of Olives is where the Judean Desert begins.
After the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, Jordan annexed the Mount of Olives for 19 years and Jews of all nations and non-Jewish Israelis were barred from entering Jordan, including the Mount of Olives. Jordanian Arabs damaged 38,000 tombstones, plowed the burial sites, made roads through burial sites, destroyed graves, including some of famous people, and destroyed graves to build a parking lot and a filling station.
After the 1967 Six-Day War, Israel occupied East Jerusalem, began restoration work and re-opened cemeteries for burials.
When we started climbing the Mount of Olives, we passed three young boys who were pulling heavy-duty pallet jacks and probably going to do work they seemed too young for, moving heavy supplies into Old Jerusalem businesses. They wanted to pose for photos and wanted to see my friend’s cellphone photos and the LCD of my DSLR. Young people often wanted to pose for photos with Americans. They didn’t ask us to send the photos, even though they had cellphones, but they were very eager to look at the photos.
Climbing to the top of the Mount of Olives isn’t for everyone. It is a steep climb and there are few places to stop and catch your breath. You are climbing past a huge graveyard and thousands of years of history. The top of the Mount of Olives is 262 feet above Old Jerusalem and the Temple Mount and offers a breathtaking view of the city.
And, at the top of the Mount of Olives, you can have your picture taken while sitting on a camel, if you hadn't already ridden a camel for two hours into the Negev Desert.