Public Diplomacy and Diaspora Affairs Minister Yuli Edelstein (Likud) on Thursday called on Defense Minister Ehud Barak to increase access to Joseph’s Tomb, located on the southern edge of Nablus, which has a waiting list of thousands of Jews wanting to make the pilgrimage.

At present, access to the tomb is limited to one nightly trip a month.

“We have to return to a normal situation, under which those who want to come and to pray and to touch the stones there can,” Edelstein told The Jerusalem Post.

Late on Wednesday night, Edelstein, along with Social Welfare and Communications Minister Moshe Kahlon (Likud) and Science and Technology Minister Daniel Hershkowitz (Habayit Hayehudi) made a surprise visit to the tomb, to highlight the need to make it more accessible and to mark the end of a two-year renovation project.

“It was the first visit of ministers after more than 10 years,” said Edelstein, who added that “it was very emotional” to be able to pray there.

“As you know, for years Joseph’s Tomb was ruined and neglected and burned down. Thanks to the Samaria Regional Council, it was renovated. It was important for us to be there as Jews, Israelis and as ministers to see the new condition of Joseph’s Tomb and to call for a return to the situation in which it would be possible to pray there regularly,” Edelstein said.

He said it was possible to accommodate this need, in coordination with the IDF, given the improved security situation in the West Bank.

The ministers were joined by more than a thousand worshipers from all over the country, in an event that was organized by the Samaria Regional Council.

Nablus, located at the site of the biblical city of Shechem, was placed under the control of the Palestinian Authority after the 1993 Oslo Accords.

But Israelis were given free access to Joseph’s Tomb in the 1990s.

Israel withdrew from the tomb in 2001, shortly after a gun battle in which six Palestinians and Border Police Cpl. Madhat Yusef were killed.

Within a week, a Palestinian mob destroyed the compound, and Eilon Moreh resident Hillel Lieberman, who also held US citizenship, was later killed en route to the tomb. Lieberman, a father of seven, was a founder and administrator of the Od Yosef Chai Yeshiva at Joseph’s Tomb.

For two years after the riot, Jews were banned from visiting, and the yeshiva was relocated to the Yitzhar settlement.

After 2003, Jews were allowed intermittent access to the tomb, which was expanded to a monthly midnight visit in 2009.

But with the support of ministers, settlers are now calling for a return to a situation in which Jews can regularly visit and study there.

“We all know what took place here, and many of us have prayed for this day [when it would be renovated], particularly after our enemies destroyed it in a brutal way,” Kahlon said.

“We have to restore prayer and regular activities,” said Hershkowitz, who thanked God that the Jews had merited the right to renovate the tomb with the help of the IDF.

After the ministerial entourage left, the excited first-grade girls of Elon Moreh’s Nachalat Tzvi school celebrated receiving their first prayer books at the site.

Jonah Mandel contributed to this report.

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