Nine years after the IDF withdrew from Nablus, a new group was launched on Thursday morning which aims to restore Jewish presence to the Joseph's Tomb compound, in the heart of the West Bank city.
The initiative follows improved security which has led to the army's removal of roadblocks at the entrance to several Palestinian towns, including the Hawara checkpoint at the southern entrance to Nablus.
The group, named Gar'in Shchem, is made up of Judea and Samaria residents, including rabbis and veteran settler leaders.
In October 2000, Israel withdrew from the tomb after a fierce gun battle in which six Palestinians and Border Police Cpl. Madhat Yusef were killed. Within a week, a Palestinian mob ransacked and burned the buildings in the compound, and Eilon Moreh resident Hillel Lieberman, who also held US citizenship, was killed en route to the tomb. The father of seven was one of the founders and administrators of the Od Yosef Chai Yeshiva at Joseph's Tomb, and had wanted to pray there.
Until recently, visits to the tomb were made clandestinely by Breslav Hassidim, against IDF orders. Now, the Yitzhar-based organization Shechem Ehad (shoulder to shoulder) organizes monthly visits to the tomb.
"It is already nine years since Joseph's Tomb was burned, plundered and abandoned. It's time to remove the shame," read a flyer distributed by Gar'in Shchem on Thursday.
The group aims to get widespread public support for their plan, before setting up a protest tent near the IDF Samaria Division headquarters and finally organizing a march to Nablus.
"There is no longer a security hindrance," said organizers, according to Army Radio. "This is Israeli territory according to every law and we intend to return there at any cost."
Tovah Lazaroff and Matthew Wagner contributed to this report.