Background: Joseph's Tomb remains source of conflict

Unauthorized and unprotected clandestine visits are regularly held by small groups of Jewish worshipers.

By JONAH MANDEL
April 26, 2011 02:23
2 minute read.
Palestinian rioters set fire in Joseph's Tomb.

joseph's tomb_311. (photo credit: Abed Omar Qusini / Reuters)

 
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The site of Joseph’s Tomb, located at the outskirts of Nablus, is first mentioned in the Book of Genesis, where it is written that Jacob bought a plot of land from the sons of Hamor, the father of Shechem.

Later in that book, Joseph – Jacob’s son – tells his brothers from his Egyptian deathbed that his bones should be borne from the exile to be laid to rest in that plot. Jewish tradition holds that Joseph’s sons Ephraim and Menashe are also buried at the site.

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Travelers and pilgrims over the centuries gave mention to the tomb, which is venerated by Muslims and the Samaritans, as well.

In the 1970s, Jews began to regularly visit the site – and in the mid 1980s, the Od Yosef Hai (Joseph is still alive) yeshiva was established on the grounds, headed by Rabbi Yitzhak Ginsberg.

The Oslo Accords of 1995 gave the Palestinian Authority full control over Nablus, but determined that the holy Jewish site was to remain an Israeli enclave, similar to Rachel’s Tomb in Bethlehem and the Patriarch’s Tomb in Hebron.

In October 2000, however, a battle at the site – during which Druse border policeman Madhat Yusuf bled to death after a decision to not evacuate him – resulted in the decision of Defense Minister Ehud Barak to pull back Israeli presence from the tomb.

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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. The yeshiva has since been moved to Yitzhar.

In recent years, the Samaria Regional Council lobbied military and government officials to not only refurbish the desecrated structure, but also reinstate Israeli sovereignty at the site.

As of November 2007 nocturnal visits on the eve of the Jewish new month – coordinated with and secured by the IDF – enable busloads of Jewish worshipers to visit the tomb.

Last September, a new dome and tombstone was installed in the site, as the restoration works orchestrated by the Samaria council (under the auspices of the IDF and in coordination with the PA) rapidly approached completion.

Besides the monthly busloads of visitors, who sign-up in advance for the coveted permission to make the trip, unauthorized and unprotected clandestine visits are regularly held by small groups of Jewish worshipers – most notably Breslav Hassidim, who give special significance to prayer at the burial sites of holy Jewish figures.

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