Olmert Government Destroys Synagogue Next to Joseph's Tomb

The Civil Lands Administration Monday afternoon leveled a one-year-old synagogue located near Joseph’s Tomb in the Samarian city of Shechem.

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Hana Levi Julian,

Joseph's Tomb after a visit by PA terrorists.
Joseph's Tomb after a visit by PA terrorists.
(Archive)

The Civil Lands Administration destroyed a one-year-old synagogue built on Mount Gerizim near the Samarian city of Shechem on Monday afternoon. The structure was built not far from one of the holiest sites in the Jewish world.

Government officials maintained that the building was erected without a permit, and was not a synagogue.

Dozens of Breslov Chassidim and other rabbis and students worshipped there daily, learning Torah between the services. The rabbinical students vowed not to give up the site without opposition. “If the synagogue is destroyed, it will be re-built,” vowed one student before the house of worship was razed to the ground.

The structure was built by the students in order to study as close as possible to the burial place in Shechem of the biblical Joseph, son of the Jewish matriarch Rachel and Jewish patriarch Jacob. Following the IDF surrender of Joseph's tomb to the Palestinian Authority in October 2000, Jews cannot freely and safely access the Jewish holy site. There have been several clandestine pilgrimages by Jews – and some not so clandestine – to the tomb since then.

Echoes of the past reverberate in the hills around the grave of the biblical Joseph, whose bones were brought to rest in Samaria by the Children of Israel when they escaped from Egyptian slavery thousands of years ago.
"The bones of Joseph which the Children of Israel brought up from Egypt were buried in Shechem in the portion of the field that had been purchased by Jacob." (Joshua 24.32)

The Tomb of Joseph, whose sons headed two of the twelve tribes of Israel, was to remain accessible to Jews under the terms of the Oslo Accords signed by Israel with the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), which represented the PA.

The area around the tomb, including the city of Shechem, was handed over to the PA, whose leaders had promised to protect the site.

But Jewish access to the tomb was blasted away by PLO terrorists in October 2000, a scant few days after the start of the Oslo War.

Israel Border Police officers spent days fending off terrorist attempts to capture and destroy the tomb. Within a week, the government of then-Prime Minister Ehud Barak, currently Israel’s Defense Minister, caved in and ordered IDF troops to abandon the site.

Another Joseph was also abandoned that day in 2000: a Druze Border Policeman named Madhat Yusuf (Joseph, in Arabic) was left to bleed to death as soldiers waited for the order to rescue him. Instead of sending in troops to rescue the bleeding soldier, then IDF Chief of Staff Shaul Mofaz negotiated with the PLO for five hours to try and coordinate with the Arabs the evacuation of the Israeli soldier, but by then it was too late. The government later told journalists the talks were necessary in order to avoid the risk of killing PA civilians.

The PA promise to preserve Joseph’s Tomb and allow Jewish access was violated within two hours after Yusuf’s body was carried away. A flood of PA Arabs entered the compound and razed the synagogue to the ground, burning furniture and holy books as the PA policemen who had vowed to protect the site stood idly by.

Two days later, the dome of the tomb itself was painted “evil eye green” as some people refer to the color, which in Arabic tradition wards off the evil eye. Bulldozers cleared away the remnants of the pogrom that had taken place there, transforming the holy Jewish monument into a Muslim religious site.