Just four times a year, the IDF opens the Arab village Timnat Hares for Jewish visitors to the graves of the Biblical Joshua and Caleb. Arutz-7 takes you inside...
We arrived just before midnight, to mark the anniversary of the passing of Joshua, the great Jewish leader and successor to Moses. We pulled into a makeshift parking lot outside the entrance to Timnat Hares, the mountaintop mentioned in the Book of Joshua, and now home to the Arab village Kefel Hares.
"It's better to go in on foot," said a smiling IDF officer, "as parking in the village is a balagan (hullabaloo) and it's only about a ten minute walk."
Less than two years ago I had taken part in a similar midnight visit to Joseph's Tomb, also coordinated with the IDF. But walking into the streets and alleys of Palestinian Authority-controlled Shechem (forcibly renamed Neapolis by the Romans less than 2000 years ago, and now mispronounced as Nablus by locals and the world press) was certainly not offered as an option.
The IDF soldiers who secured the village of Kefel Hares for the evening were in very high spirits.
INN photographer Josh Shamsi and I entered the village through an iron gate that could easily be closed to block the entrance to Arab vehicular traffic in the event of a military imposed closure following an attack emanating from the village.
We passed three hareidi-religious men, in their late twenties and early thirties, from the town of Elad. "We came to pray and to invoke the merit of Joshua bin [son of] Nun, Calev ben [son of] Yefuneh, and of course Nun," Yisrael Elcharar tells us. "We hope that they will come before G-d and fight on behalf of the Jewish people in the coming days."
Joshua and Calev were both warriors and religious leaders - the lone voices among the twelve spies sent by Moses to scout out the Land of Israel who brought back a favorable report of the land, encouraging the Jewish people to trust G-d and fight for the Promised Land. Forty years later they led the young Jewish nation to conquer the Land of Israel.
"Nun?" I asked them. "Tell me about Nun."
"Well, Nun is Joshua's father – what more is there to say?"
This was the first time in years that the tomb of Nun, located away from that of Joshua and Calev (Caleb), would also be open to worshippers. The hours the village was open to Jews have also been doubled from the previous year due to rising demand to visit the sites.
The streets of Kefel Hares were lined with posters depicting leaders of various terrorist factions, from Yasser Arafat to parliament members of the Hamas terror group, the sweeping victors in PA legislative elections held earlier this year. Local martyrs also featured prominently.
Though buses were shuttling people back and forth from the parking lot to the graves, we passed an elderly couple walking on foot down the village's dark streets. Chana and Elazar took a bus to nearby Ariel from Bnei Brak in order to make the visit, but had started their journey even farther away.
"We came from New York and are here to pray at the grave of Joshua bin Nun," Chana said in native Israeli Hebrew. When asked why they came all the way to the middle of an Arab village in Samaria in the middle of the night, Elazar explained, "He brought the Jewish people back to Israel."
We reached a square heralding the martyrdom of one of the town's Arab residents. There was no obvious sign of the massive IDF presence we assumed had been brought out to secure the town, except for the occasional hanging glow-sticks signaling the proper direction to walk.
We arrived first at the tomb of Calev ben Yefuneh, the mighty conqueror of Hevron and Joshua's sole ally in proclaiming the Land of Israel to be both conquerable and desirable.
"The Land is very, very good ," the two Jewish heroes reported back the Jewish nation, which had been waiting for the report of the twelve spies sent to scout out the fortifications and specifications of the local inhabitants' defenses. "You should not fear the people of the land, for they are our bread," declared Calev.
Visiting Calev's grave is of special significance, as tradition has it that Calev himself visited the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hevron when he first visited Israel on behalf of Moses.
The Tomb of Calev is a domed structure with a stone courtyard in front, and a smaller domed structure to the left. It has been surrounded on two sides by an Arab graveyard. Garbage was strewn about the area, and there was a subtle smell of decaying fish. Two towering cypress trees graced the courtyard, as well as a mighty cedar.
Inside, words of prayer and melodic readings of Psalms and the Torah verses recounting Calev's deeds filled the quiet night. The grave had been draped in a sky blue cover and worshippers were fully leaned over, hugging it, and beseeching Calev to once again convey his faith and confidence to the hearts of the Jewish people.
Mystics say our generation is tasked with rectifying the national sin of the Jewish people upon the spies return in the desert. At the time, the nation rejected the minority report of Joshua and Calev in favor of the pessimistic, yet seemingly pragmatic reports delivered by the majority of the spies, who were originally selected as righteous spiritual leaders of the tribes of Israel. As G-d’s punishment for the miscalculation, the conquering of the Land of Israel was postponed for 40 years as the Jews wandered the desert until every member of that rejectionist generation had died, with the exception of Joshua and Calev.
The Jewish people are now being given another opportunity to decide whether to accept G-d’s promised land as an inheritance. Today, Jews can choose to continue wandering in the desert, fed by manna and guarded by clouds of Glory, or to enter the Land, despite the Global Jihad, Gush Katif, Amona, a struggling economy, or any other factor steering us to feel like "It is a land that devours its inhabitants," as the spies said, leaving us feeling like "grasshoppers in our own eyes."
The voice of someone within the tomb boomed, "And Calev silenced the people before Moses, declaring, 'We shall surely ascend and conquer it, for we can surely do it!' ." The echo sounded as though it might not end at the other side of the nearby wadi, but rather continue across the Atlantic, where modern offices have been set up facilitating "Aliyah," the Hebrew word sharing the same root as Calev's exhortation, “We shall ascend [Aloh na'aleh]” meaning the modern move to Israel from the Exile.
On the side of the tomb, a middle-aged professor with a slight Russian accent talks heatedly with a soldier stationed there. The soldier intermittently paces to overlook a closed-off side-street with his short M-16 at ready position. The two discuss science and theology. I came back after ten minutes to hear the soldier insist that the professor speak with his brother. "No, you speak to him yourself," the professor exclaimed. "Let him know what I said, and that I am here if he wants to talk to me." The two exchange phone numbers and bid each other farewell.
Continuing up the road, we reached the square where Joshua's Tomb is located. It has been festooned in Hamas flags of multiple shapes and sizes, the largest with gold trim and a handwritten "Allahu Akbar" added to it – presumably after the landslide victory.
If I didn't know better I would think that local graffiti artists came up with a logo to express their pride in sharing the mountain with Joshua, who led the Jewish people across the Jordan River, and later around the walls of Jericho seven times until they sank into the ground. The logo, with its arrow entering Israel's center from across the Jordan, refers instead to the flooding of Israel with the children and grandchildren of those Arabs who left in 1948. The logo belongs to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), the terrorist group responsible for the murder of Tourism Minister Rechavam Ze'evi.
Although it is almost 2 AM, a festive atmosphere surrounded the tomb. Breslav hassidim sold books while free cookies, beurekas and caffeinated cola filled tables set up around the square.
Along the benches and stoops of the plaza sat visitors from across Israel, reading booklets printed by the Samaria Religious Municipality's Division for Holy Sites. Reprinted were the verses from the Torah recounting Joshua's deeds:
- The counter-attack against Amalekite marauders following the crossing of the Red Sea while his name was still Hoshea [Exodus 17];
- His wait at the foot of Sinai for Moses to return – taking no part in sin of the Golden Calf;
- The story of his rise to become the capable military commander of the Jewish people while acting as spiritual leader and protege to Moses;
- The capture of Jericho and eventually most of Israel (not including Gaza).
A fire made up of hundreds of small candles burned outside the tomb. It was so crowded that many prayed outside. A nearby sign declares that Belgium is building a massive complex that will tower above the tomb. The doorway leading in is only about four feet tall and we have to first wait for the stream of people leaving to ebb before ducking and making our way in. Inside is a courtyard, shaded by an enormous fragrant tree.
The inner courtyard of Joshua's Tomb
Another, even lower and narrower door leads into the actual tomb. To the left of the door has been spray painted "Joshua" in blue Hebrew letters. On the opposite side of the small courtyard, "FATEH" is written in red capital English letters. We squeezed through the entranceway and entered the prayer room, which smells of the fresh whitewash applied to cover the swastikas and anti-Jewish graffiti scrawled inside the tomb ahead of the annual visit.
Though the walls of Jericho came tumbling down under Joshua's leadership, the Partition Wall being erected by the current Israeli government is slated to fence out the Tomb of Joshua which will become off limits to Jews under Ehud Olmert's concentration plan.
The Oslo Accords, signed in 1993, provided assurances that Jewish worshipers would have continued access to religious sites. Just as those assurances were eventually violated, many are now concerned that Olmert's unilateral plan will essentially leave religious and historical sites outside the Partition Wall to be destroyed and Islamicized.
Local Arabs have already attempted to destroy the tomb. On Yom Kippur, October 10, 2000, just after the start of the current intifada, rioters approached the tomb but were prevented from doing serious harm by IDF troops.
Samaria's top IDF brass turned out to oversee the current operation to secure the area for Jewish visitors, as well as take part in the event itself. One senior officer, named "Maki," is the commander of the local Chatmar brigade – a reserve unit made up of soldiers who left their original units to serve in the area of their residence. "I enjoyed this very much," he told me. "It is very emotional and an honor to be a part of an army that makes this a priority."
When asked whether the village of Kefel Hares will be placed outside the government’s Partition Wall, he said that he has no idea and, smiling, advised me not to spoil the mood with politics.
I overhear three middle-aged men, with strong north African accents and kippot still creased from being folded and placed in pockets or glove compartments.
"Hayita etzel Nun? [Were you at Nun yet?]"
"Ma pitom Nun? [Say what? Nun?]"
"Ken, shtei dakot mikan! [Yeah, two minutes from here]"
"Bo, Yallah! [Let's get a move on!]"
"Bo, Avi! L'Nun! [Come, Avi! – To Nun!]"
We pass four gigantic olive trees less than 100 feet from Joshua's Tomb – the ancient trees were planted in a square and forced each other to bend and grow outward at 45 degree angels. They seem to mark something. The large Arab homes lining the narrow roads are covered with thick grape vines that climb multiple stories to grace rooftop trellises. The roadside tomb of Nun is below one such residence and smells like it may usually be used as a pen for animals.
The Tomb of Nun, father of Joshua
If the prayer was fervent at the graves of Joshua and Calev, the primal cries at the Tomb of Nun were even more intense. People lay on the roof of the tomb and crowded inside as well, crying "Abba! [Father!]"
A troupe of men with guitars showed up and began playing music. Dancing broke out as the cries from within the tomb continued and intensified.
The three tombs of Kefel Hares are actually visited by Jews far more often than the few visits allotted by the IDF. A Breslav hassid said that worshippers enter the village to pray at the tombs at least three times a week. "For years this has been going on, without incident," he told us.
The hassid says "Praise you, tzaddikim [righteous ones]" to every soldier we pass while walking down the other side of the mountain from the tomb of Joshua's father, Nun. The soldiers grin and ask us where we are from.
On this night, on the anniversary of the death of Joshua – the Jewish leader who successfully combined spiritual and military leadership to unlock the key to the Land of Israel, the demolitions at Gush Katif and Amona are but footnotes and the bulldozers preparing the ground for the Partition Wall are but dust and straw – easily brought down by a faithful Jewish nation. Despite the current hardships, the Nation of Israel lives – as does the prophecy of Joshua and Calev: "The Land is very, very good. If we please G-d He will bring us to this Land and give it to us - a Land that flows with milk and honey."
(Photos: Josh Shamsi, Arutz-7 photojournalist)