Q. Why is the Mount of Olives called by this name?
A. It was certainly known by this name in Biblical times (Zech.14). However, in those days almost all the hills of Jerusalem had olive trees on their slopes, so every hill was more or less a Mount of Olives.
Possibly today’s Har HaZeitim grew finer olives than anywhere else. Or maybe the name reflects a midrashic tradition that it was from this location that the dove picked the olive leaf that it brought back to Noah in the Ark. There must also be a historic significance in the prophecy that the messianic redeemer will stand on the Mount of Olives (Zech. 14:4).
It is considered a great privilege to be buried there, even though access these days is not always too safe. My own grandfather was also buried there, but his grave, like many others, was despoiled between 1948-1967 when the Jordanians ruled the area and took Jewish tombstones for the purpose of paving latrines – or at least they condoned this act of wanton desecration. After the Six-Day War an Israeli cousin took me to the Mount to look for our grandfather’s grave and a number of the family shared the expense of refurbishing the memorial and rebuilding the gravestone.