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'A second desecration of Joseph's Tomb'
By JONAH MANDEL
08/26/2010
W. Bank rabbis angry at choice of a Palestinian renovator for site.
 
Less than a week after the unprecedented daytime visit of the chief rabbis to Joseph’s Tomb in Nablus, rabbis from Samaria are raising their voices in protest over the army’s intention to have a Palestinian contractor renovate the Jewish holy site.

Ten rabbis of the Samaria Religious Council issued a statement on Wednesday against what they called a breach of the understandings reached between the IDF and the Jewish residents of Samaria, who say the army told them it would be conducting the much-needed renovation. On October 7, 2000, hours after the tomb was handed over to the Palestinian police, a Palestinian mob ransacked the structure, smashing the dome with pickaxes and setting the compound on fire.

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Minor work on the site has been performed by Jews over the past year and a half in semi-clandestine nocturnal operations, in full cooperation with the IDF, to avoid drawing hostile Palestinian attention, but a new dome for the structure is still needed.

The ethnicity of the renovator was shared with Chief Rabbis Yona Metzger and Shlomo Amar, as well as Rabbi of the Western Wall and Holy Sites Shmuel Rabinovitch, during a meeting with IDF brass immediately before the start of last Thursday’s tour, which besides Joseph’s Tomb included in Jericho’s ancient Shalom Al Yisrael synagogue.

The senior rabbis apparently saw no reason to object to what is the norm regarding construction work, including on structures serving religious purposes.

But the Samaria rabbis, including Elyakim Levanon of Elon Moreh, saw the chief rabbis’ publicized tour as an attempt by the IDF and Civil Administration of Judea and Samaria to make the “underhanded” move kosher. In a letter they sent to Amar and Metzger on Sunday, the local rabbis slammed the army for the move, which would be “a second desecration” of the holy site.

A statement on Wednesday said the IDF’s “stealthy” change of plan was “a unilateral attempt to transfer de facto control over Joseph’s Tomb to the Palestinian Authority, which desecrated and defiled the tomb many times in the past.”

Sources in Samaria claimed the civil administration was letting the PA conduct the Israelifunded renovation to improve its status in world opinion, by having the Palestinians seen as reconstructing Jewish sites they had previously sacked, and to show how good the ties between Israel and the PA were.

Metzger responded to the rabbis’ letter by saying that “the rabbis of Samaria, in whose jurisdiction the complex lays, should be consulted before proceeding with the work.”

The chief Ashkenazi rabbi also said it would be appropriate to hold a discussion on the topic with the chief rabbis, the Samaria rabbis, the IDF chief rabbi and the military, before acting on the issue.

The IDF and its Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) unit issued an announcement on Thursday in which they expressed sorrow at the sight of “some groups using the names of the distinguished chief rabbis in press releases that are not based on the facts.

“After many years during which Joseph’s Tomb was neglected, the OC Central Command and civil administration took measures to maintain and clean the site,” the announcement read. “The planned renovation, to be carried out by a contractor commissioned in part by the civil administration and in part by the Palestinian Authority, was coordinated and received the blessing of the relevant religious authorities.

“The IDF and COGAT see the tomb’s renovation as a matter of high importance, and will continue their actions to preserve religious sites and the freedom to conduct religious rites in Judea and Samaria,” the statement continued.

Sources in the IDF also pointed out that the ownership of such sites was decided upon by the government, not the military, and that therefore the rabbis’ concerns over the tomb being handed over to the PA were unfounded.

The Shomron Liaison Office’s executive director David Ha’ivri, who is also active in the Shechem Echad (One Nablus) organization, which is behind the monthly visits of Jews to the site, said on Thursday that he had “mixed feelings on the way this issue is developing.

“On one hand, I am glad to see that the current state of Joseph’s Tomb has come to the attention of the chief rabbis and that they have become actively involved in demanding that the site be renovated. On the other hand, I am concerned and would be sad to see the repairs become a tool to take away from the Jewish connection to this holy site,” Ha’ivri said
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