Arab Municipality Deigns to Clean Jewish Holy Site

The City of Shechem agreed to clean vandalized Joseph's Tomb, as Breslover Hassidim continue visits to the holy site, with&without army permission.

Hillel Fendel ,

Burnt-out Joseph's Tomb
Burnt-out Joseph's Tomb

Following many requests by the army and MK Meir Porush (United Torah Judaism), the Palestinian Authority governor of Shechem (Nablus) in the Shomron gave the order last week to clean up the holy site of the Tomb of the Biblical Joseph.

The holy site had become a burnt-out, vandalized, exclusively PA-controlled garbage dump in recent years - despite the Oslo Accords assurance that Israel would control it.  Frequent visits by religious Hassidim of the Breslov movement and neighboring Jewish residents, however, have kept Joseph's Tomb in the army's eye.  An IDF lookout reported in the past few days seeing Shechem municipal workers enter the site, followed by truckloads of garbage leaving it.  A Breslover Hassid, who wishes to be known only as Y, says he has photos of the site looking cleaner than it has been in years.

A resident of the Jewish town of Yitzhar said the credit for the sudden Arab cooperation belongs to the Breslovers. "We, ourselves, are more interested in restoring Israeli control to the site," he told Arutz-7, "while the Breslovers are actually visiting the site; they simply want to pray there.  And their way is keeping things alive and producing results."

Y, for his part, says modestly, "It's not just us; the people from the Jewish towns around here also visit frequently..."  He said he appreciates the efforts by the army, MK Porush, and even the Shechem Municipality.  However, he has no illusions as to the future: "They have not refurbished the site, and there is no guarantee that the site will remain clean or that it will not be vandalized again.  In addition, our visits have still not been regulated... We currently visit almost nightly, and soon we hope to visit even more frequently."

The Breslovers' visits are sometimes coordinated with the army, but more often are not. They generally enter PA-controlled Shechem with motorcycles or speeding cars, and are not armed.

Joseph's Tomb, just 30 years ago, was located in a field outside the city, but is now surrounded on all sides by streets and houses.  The Oslo Agreement stipulates that it is to remain under Israeli control, and in fact, the Od Yosef Chai [Joseph Still Lives] Yeshiva was located there. However, access to the site was never free; it remained a closed military zone, and visits to the yeshiva had to be coordinated in advance with the army.

On the traditional anniversary of Joseph's death, for instance - the 27th day of the Hebrew month Tammuz - hundreds of Jews would arrive at the site to commemorate the day.  In September 1996, a full-scale battle broke out there, and six IDF soldiers were killed. The Israeli forces were reportedly not prepared for hostilities on such a scale.  The holy site remained under Israeli control following the battle only in the merit of a courageous decision by Central Region Commander Uzi Dayan. Dayan had been given a green light by then-Defense Minister Yitzchak Mordechai to decide whether or not to evacuate, but he decided that an IDF retreat under those circumstances would lead to additional PA attacks in other places.

For the next four years, access to the site continued to be limited.  In June 1997, for instance, just before the Shavuot holiday, the yeshiva students were ordered by the local military commander to remove the mattresses they had brought in for the holiday.  He threatened that if the mattresses were not removed immediately, he would revoke their permission to spend the holiday in the Yeshiva. 

In October 2000, at the beginning of what became known as the Oslo War, Palestinian Authority terrorists overran Joseph's Tomb and routed the Israeli forces from the city. IDF soldier Madhat Yusuf bled to death when the Israeli commanders did not rescue him, but rather relied on PA promises that they would tend to him. 

Then-Prime Minister Ehud Barak refused to order the IDF to rescue the bleeding soldier from Joseph's tomb for fear that many Arabs would be killed in the operation. In the wake of a public outcry at abandoning the soldier in enemy territory, the "We Don't Abandon Soldiers" and the "We Care" movements were formed and began promoting the value of fighting to rescue soldiers. In 2004, a Knesset sub-committee determined that the decision to rely on the PA was faulty due to previous experience with similar PA promises.

Israeli forces have not returned to the site since then, and the Arabs of Shechem turned the former yeshiva into a burnt-out hull.