Chief rabbis in rare visit to holy sites in Nablus, Jericho
First visits by high-ranking Israeli delegation in 10 years.
By JONAH MANDEL
Israel’s Chief Rabbis Yona Metzger and Shlomo Amar conducted an unprecedented visit to Jewish holy sites in Nablus and Jericho on Thursday, ahead of the High Holy Days.For the first time in 10 years, a high-ranking Israeli delegation came in broad daylight to Joseph’s Tomb in Nablus and the ancient Shalom Al Israel synagogue in Jericho.The visit, the first of its kind since the IDF pulled out of Nablus and Jericho, was said to be the result of an ongoing dialogue between Rabbi of the Western Wall and Holy Sites Shmuel Rabinovitch and the head of the Civil Administration in Judea and Samaria Brig.- Gen. Yoav Mordechai, who organized the tour. OC Central Command Maj.-Gen. Avi Mizrahi and Judea and Samaria Division commander Brig.- Gen. Nitzan Alon also participated.The rabbis prayed at the sites and were briefed by Mizrahi on the arrangements under which Jews can pray there. Both sites are in Area A and hence under Palestinian security responsibility.The IDF cited the visit as another example of the improving security situation in Judea and Samaria, which can be credited, among other factors, to confidence-building measures led by the military, and the tightening of ties between the IDF and Palestinian security forces.Metzger used the opportunity to speak out strongly against the phenomenon of clandestine nocturnal infiltrations into the Joseph’s Tomb complex.Since the site was taken over by Palestinians in 2000, Jewish worshipers have been barred from entering during the day.AdvertisementAs of November 2007, monthly nighttime visits, coordinated with and secured by the IDF, enable busloads of Jewish worshipers to access the tomb.However, individuals and small groups, usually Breslav hassidim or Samaria residents, occasionally attempt entry into the Palestinian-controlled zone on their own, risking their lives by doing so.“This is a mitzva born out of sin,” the chief Ashkenazi rabbi said of the unregulated infiltrations.“It borders on life-endangering,” he added, noting that only last week one such infiltrator had nearly been killed by IDF troops who mistook the Jewish worshiper for a terrorist.“This does not please Joseph the Righteous,” Metzger admonished, and called for a halt to visits that are not coordinated with the security forces.Executive Director of the Samaria Liaison Office David Ha’ivri said he was “very enthusiastic about this important development of the chief rabbis, which shows the importance of these holy sites. Their intervention will bring the authorities to allow more visits [to Joseph’s Tomb], easing the pressure of individuals who come on their own and endanger themselves.“We hope this important visit will herald more freedom of access for Jewish worshipers,” he said.The Od Joseph Hai yeshiva, located at Joseph’s Tomb, was overrun and vandalized by local Arabs in October 2000. It has since been reestablished in nearby Yitzhar.Samaria Regional Council Chairman Gershon Mesika has for the past few years been heading efforts by the local residents to be allowed to fix up the site. In July, the IDF enabled a work team to spend one night cleaning and renovating the tomb.