Quietly, and without much fanfare, an important and painful anniversary slipped by this week virtually unnoticed by most of world Jewry.
It may seem hard to believe, but it was just six years ago, on October 7, 2000, that a turbulent mob of Palestinians assaulted Joseph's Tomb in Shechem (Nablus), demolishing the millennial-old holy site in a matter of hours.
In scenes broadcast worldwide, Palestinians armed with sledge-hammers put on a memorable display of their notion of religious tolerance as they hacked, chopped, smashed and destroyed one of the most hallowed sites belonging to the Jewish people.
As a result, the pristine sounds of Jewish prayer which had once filled the skies over Joseph's Tomb were replaced by plumes of smoke as the invading Arab throng pillaged the compound, setting alight holy books and other sacred religious objects.
Much, of course, has happened in the interim on the Palestinian front, from suicide bombings to the destruction of Gush Katif to the kidnapping this past summer of IDF soldier Gilad Shalit. Nonetheless, it is worth taking a look back at that horrible day, if only because it encapsulated everything that was - and still is - wrong with Israel's approach to the Palestinians.
THE ATTACK on Joseph's Tomb was the culmination of a process that had begun several days beforehand, when Palestinian policemen and Fatah terrorists launched a coordinated attack on the Israeli soldiers guarding the location. One of the brave young men defending the site was a 19-year old Druse border policeman, Cpl. Madhat Yusuf. After being shot in the neck by a Palestinian gunman, Yusuf lay wounded for more than five hours, slowly bleeding to death as then-prime minister Ehud Barak turned down repeated requests from the army to send in a rescue team from a nearby base.
Astonishingly, Barak preferred to rely on promises from the Palestinian Authority that Yusuf would be allowed to be evacuated to safety. In effect, Barak was counting on those who had shot Yusuf to save him - a foolhardy decision by any stretch of the imagination, and one that proved lethal to the young soldier.
Adding insult to injury, Barak shortly thereafter ordered the army to abandon Joseph's Tomb in exchange for still more promises from the Palestinians that they would honestly and truly - with no fingers crossed behind their backs - do their utmost to protect the very site they had just spent several days blasting with automatic weapons fire.
Not surprisingly, a few hours later, Joseph's Tomb was overrun, and quickly reduced to flaming ruins.
In retrospect, it was and remains abundantly clear that Israel made a grievous strategic mistake in pulling out of Joseph's Tomb.
The withdrawal marked the first time that Israel had directly retreated under fire in the face of Palestinian violence, sending the other side an unequivocal message of weakness and vacillation.
And coming just days after the start of the September 2000 Palestinian terror campaign, Israel's capitulation served as an inspirational recruitment tool for the likes of Hamas and Islamic Jihad, which were only too happy to point to the incident as a sign that if you keep hitting the Jews hard enough, they will eventually turn tail and run away.
Moreover, by so ignominiously forsaking such a prominent historical and holy site, and allowing one of its own soldiers to slowly hemorrhage to death, Israel was essentially declaring to its foes that its own sense of national dignity and self-respect had been all but shattered.
YEARS LATER, we now find ourselves in much the same straits, as we once again tolerate the intolerable and accept the unacceptable, repeatedly closing our eyes to violent Palestinian misdeeds. It has been 14 months since the withdrawal from Gaza, and Kassam rockets continue to rain down on the Negev and its environs as the terrorists taunt our unwillingness to shut down their operations once and for all.
Days, even weeks go by at a time, and Israel's military barely even bothers to respond to the ongoing rocket assaults against Jewish towns and cities, as though this is a reality that we just have to learn to live with.
In effect, the town of Sderot has become the new Joseph's Tomb, symbolizing our leadership's lack of will to defend even the most basic of our national values. And just as the government left the fate of Madhat Yusuf in the hands of his Palestinian attackers six years ago, it now relies on negotiating with the thugs who kidnapped Gilad Shalit in July, as though they are worthy of our trust and confidence.
Don't think for a second that the mullahs in Teheran, and the dictator in Damascus, aren't following all of this very carefully. They know a wimp when they see one, and certainly won't hesitate to exploit it to the fullest.
There is a way out, if only we can muster the necessary will. To break out of the Middle Eastern "cycle of violence" in which we find ourselves, Israel must first break free from its self-imposed "cycle of weakness" and start defending itself like any normal country should.
And nothing would be more symbolic, or more meaningful in this regard, than to take back Joseph's Tomb and restore it to full Israeli control. To continue leaving it at the mercy of the Palestinians only serves as a tangible reminder to them that organized violence does indeed have its benefits.
It is essential that the Palestinians unlearn that lesson as quickly as possible, and that Iran and Syria see that our fighting spirit remains firm. The best way to do so would be to turn back the clock and reclaim this precious piece of our religious and historical heritage.
Twice in Jewish history, Joseph was forsaken by his brothers and handed over to foreign control. The first time was in the biblical story, when he was tossed into a pit and sold to traveling merchants. The second time was in October 2000, when his tomb became a grave for a young Israeli soldier before being surrendered to a horde of bloodthirsty rioters.
once again raise the Israeli flag over the tomb of our collective biblical forebear. Doing so will send a message to our enemies that we shall never again retreat under fire, and that we will defend our right to live and worship in this land as we see fit.
So let's at last do what should have been done long ago - take back Joseph's Tomb, and our dignity with it.
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