The expedited renovation of Joseph’s Tomb in Nablus took a major step forward overnight Monday, when a new dome was installed in the place of the one that was destroyed 10 years ago, when a Palestinian mob ransacked the structure, smashing the dome with pickaxes and setting the compound on fire.
According to the spokesman for the Civil Administration in Judea and Samaria, smaller-scale work lasting around 10 more days remains to be done before the refurbishment is complete.
Chief rabbis in rare visit to holy sites in Nablus, Jericho
The spokesman stressed that all the work inside the tomb on objects pertaining to worship and sanctity, such as the ark and the tombstone, is being done solely by Jews, though the broader construction work is being carried out by a Palestinian contractor commissioned by the civil administration.
For the past few years, the Samaria Regional Council has lobbied military and government officials to not only refurbish the desecrated structure, but also reinstate Israeli sovereignty at the holy Jewish site, which is under Israel's jurisdiction according to the agreements with the Palestinian Authority, much like the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron and Rachel’s Tomb in Bethlehem. Unlike those two sites, however, Jewish worshipers have been barred from entering during the day.
As of November 2007, monthly nighttime visits, coordinated with and secured by the IDF, enable busloads of Jewish worshipers to visit the tomb.
A historic visit of the chief rabbis to Joseph’s Tomb last month signaled Israel’s resolve to repair the site, but 10 rabbis of the Samaria Religious Council, which has jurisdiction over the tomb, were dismayed to learn shortly afterward that the IDF had contracted a Palestinian team to do the renovation.
Calling the notion “a second desecration” of the tomb, the rabbis expressed fears that a Palestinian renovation could relax Israel's hold over the site, and said the army’s unilateral decision was born of the civil administration’s desire to strengthen the PA and erase the memories of the tomb’s desecration by local Arabs.
The renovation’s rapid progress is thus being met in the Samaria Regional Council with mixed feelings.
“We are dismayed that Joseph’s Tomb is being used to promote the false notion that collaboration with the Palestinian Authority is working,” Eli Rozenfeld, who is in charge of the site on behalf of the council, told The Jerusalem Post.
“The IDF is currently in Nablus. But we all know what happens to holy
Jewish sites the moment the Palestinians are solely in control. We are
also dissatisfied that the army didn’t heed the Samaria rabbis’ ruling
that a Jew should conduct the renovation.
“But we cannot disregard the fact that after 10 years of disgrace, the
Israeli government has decided to assume responsibility over a site that
lawfully belongs to us,” he said.
“This is the first step toward returning things to the way they should be,” Rozenfeld said of the renovation. “The main change still remains ahead of us – that a permanent IDF presence would enable our ongoing entry to the site.”
“The army can amend its disregard of the Samaria rabbis by the military command ceremonially handing the key to the new compound to the rabbis,” Rozenfeld added.
On Thursday, a ceremony highlighted by the commencement of the writing of a Torah scroll will take place on the Mitzpe Yoseph look-over, on top of Mount Gerizim. Marking ten years to the “abandonment of [Nablus] and Joseph's Tomb,” the event will launch a year-long campaign to promote the return of a permanent Jewish presence to the site.