Jewish men pray joshua tomb 311.
(photo credit: AP)
At 3 a.m. on Friday, the square in front of Joshua’s Tomb in the Palestinian village of Kifl Hares (Timnath-heres) in Samaria was packed with Jews who had come to pray on the anniversary of the Israelite leader’s death.
They were among more than 10,000 who streamed into the village starting at 10:30 p.m. on Thursday and into the wee hours of the morning.
They hiked from the main road outside Ariel into the village’s dark streets. Some wore black hats and hassidic garb; others were dressed in sandals and jeans. Friends came in groups and parents brought their children.
During their visit, the IDF placed the village under curfew. Soldiers holding glow sticks stood guard along the path.
Visitors stopped first at the grave of the biblical leader Caleb.
The tomb, which is split into two small rooms, is located next to a Muslim graveyard.
Jews lit candles and buried their faces in prayer books. Some cried as they swayed.
Yossi Dagan, a spokesman for the Samaria Regional Council, said that when the worshipers first arrived at Joshua’s Tomb, a short distance away from Caleb’s, they found Arabic graffiti on the tomb’s wall, which they quickly painted over.
It did not dampen the festive mood, as hundreds of people milled around outside Joshua’s Tomb.
Bright lights lit up the square and in one corner a few entrepreneurs had set up folding tables and were selling religious texts.
Some of the men sporadically burst into song and danced.
Off in a corner set aside for women, two 19-year olds sat on folding chairs taking in the sight. It was their first visit.
“It’s a sign of redemption,” Hodaya Madami said.
She was eager to talk about Joshua and the difference between him and Moses.
“When you go to these holy places, you see that you have something in common with those around you, which is God,” she said.
A woman named Odelia said she had come on a more personal mission – to pray for her father’s health.
These visits, which can take place only under IDF protection, happen only occasionally.
“It’s a unique opportunity where they are able to reach the burial place of one of the most important leaders of the Jewish people,” said David Haivri, director of the Shomron Liaison Office and one of the organizers.
Palestinians who live in the village say that the tombs, including one for Joshua’s father Nun, hold the remains of Muslims.
Ahmed Bouzia, the mayor of Kifl Hares, said many villagers worry Israel will try to take holy sites away from them, including Joshua’s Tomb, the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron and Rachel’s Tomb in Bethlehem.
“All three are Islamic graves,” Bouzia said, adding that the one in his village contains the remains of an ancestor of his.
“Anyone who uses his eyes and head can see that these are Islamic graves,” he said.AP contributed to this report.