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John F. Kennedy Administration: Discussion of Israel's Weariness of Jordanian Construction on Mount of Olives

(June 1, 1962)

This telegram is in relation to Jordanian construction in and near the Mount of Olives, the holiest cemetery for Israelis.

Telegram From the Department of State to the Embassy in Jordan/1/

Washington, June 1, 1962, 8:29 p.m.

/1/Source: Department of State, Central Files, 885.2612/6-162. Confidential. Drafted by Crawford; cleared by Ludlow, Palmer, Sisco, Dinsmore (NEA/NE), and Strong; and approved by Talbot. Also sent to USUN and Jerusalem and repeated to Tel Aviv.

427. Deptel 421./2/ Israel Minister Gazit made further approach to Department (Strong) May 31/3/ re GOJ "desecration" Jewish cemetery on Mount of Olives by construction hotel access road. Said cemetery is Holy Place by UN definition and Israel rights therein protected by Article VII Israel-Jordan GAA. Alleged entirely feasible build access road without injuring cemetery.

/2/Telegram 421 to Amman, May 25, expressed Department concern over The Mount of Olives situation, commended the Embassy in Amman and the Consulate General in Jerusalem for previous approaches, and suggested further frank discussion with Jordanian Prime Minister Wasfi Tell. Specifically, Tell was to be informed that the best course was for Jordan to relocate its road so that it would not encroach on cemetery grounds. The Department, however, understood that whatever route was taken to the hotel would trespass some religious or consecrated sites and that if Jordan refused to relocate the road, it should be urged to send a letter to Von Horn expressing an intention to beautify the route in keeping with its sacred character and to construct a stone wall to separate the road from the remaining cemetery. (Ibid., 885.2612/5-2562)

/3/The memorandum of conversation is ibid., 885.2612/5-3162.

Gazit asked whether, in light Secretary's earlier suggestions GOI should engage USG attention in issues threatening NE area stability, USG willing instruct US Embassy Amman:

(1) Pass following questions GOJ for reply: (a) Has work within cemetery and immediate environs ceased? (b) If not what are GOJ further plans (hotel, stadium, more roads) for development of The Mount of Olives area?

(2) Urge GOJ cease all work immediately if GOJ replies are cause for "anxiety" on Israel's part.

Gazit asked USG assurance of replies to above questions within one week. Regardless of replies Israel reserves right claim appropriate redress from GOJ. Israel public opinion cannot but be highly aroused should work continue. Israel UNDel discussing problem with Bunche.

Strong replied USG can readily understand and share GOI concern. We have matter under discussion with GOJ and will pursue. However, issue requires quiet diplomatic handling and cannot usefully be treated by "ultimata" or "deadlines". Additionally, this is UN concern. GOI would have been well-advised engage chief UN representative on spot (Von Horn) at outset. Desirable Israel bring him into picture now. Gazit replied Department knows GOI attitude toward Von Horn. In his view Von Horn was aware of Jordanian activities in cemetery long ago yet had done nothing and shown no interest.

For Amman: Request comments particularly in light guidance reftel. What info or GOJ replies to GOI questions (a) and (b) might be conveyed without USG commitment? Embassy may also wish consider whether desirable for qualified US technician examine Mount Olives site to evaluate GOJ intentions and determine whether, as Israel claims, alternative road location feasible.

For USUN: Reftel and previous background this problem being forwarded. Mission requested discuss Israel approach with Bunche and solicit his comments.

For Jerusalem: Suggest you discuss foregoing with Churley and obtain his views on possible UNTSO role.


Sources: Foreign Relations of the United States, 1961-1963: Near East, 1962-1963, V. XVIII. DC: GPO, 2000.