Ten years after an Arab mob destroyed and defiled it, the huge stone covering Joseph's Tomb in Shechem (Nablus) was restored in an Israeli engineering operation that began Saturday night and ended Sunday morning. The complex and sensitive night-long operation was a joint effort by the Samaria local authority, along with the Shechem Echad (One Shechem) organization and the Samaria Religious Council, with the cooperation and assistance of the IDF's Samaria Brigade and officers and soldiers from the IDF Civil Administration.
The tombstone was placed by the Har Kabir construction company from Elon Moreh. In a complex engineering feat, using cranes that were custom-built for the operation, a five-ton stone slab was lowered into the ancient tomb structure in the exact location where the original stone lay, before it was smashed and burned by the Arab pillagers in September 2000.
"This is an exciting historical moment,” Samaria local authority head Gershon Mesika said upon completion of the operation. “It is a very small tikkun [fixing] of the ignominy of the abandonment of Joseph's Tomb. No nation in the world would allow a holy place, a symbolic root of its people, to be defiled as Joseph's Tomb was. We thank the IDF's officers and soldiers for their part in the renovation of the tomb, which is progressing nicely, and we urge the Israeli government to make amends for its misdeeds and once again allow a Jewish presence at Joseph's Tomb. This is even anchored in the Oslo Accords, which states that Joseph's Tomb will remain under the full control of the State of Israel."
The Samaria local authority under Mesika and “One Shechem,” an NGO which is mostly concerned with Joseph's Tomb, have been lobbying government ministers and high-ranking IDF officers for the past two years with the request to renovate Joseph's Tomb and to allow Jews to pray there regularly.
Eighteen months ago, IDF officers and Samaria residents rebuilt part of the old tombstone as a temporary measure. Several months later the compound – which had been charred by numerous fires set by Muslims – was painted white and cleaned of the filth that was deliberately dumped there by Muslims. The next step was the building of an infrastructure for a security railing.
Since then, following stern warnings delivered by the IDF, the Arabs have not attempted to defile the tomb. The IDF does not maintain a 24-hour security presence at the tomb, but believes its deterrent power is sufficient to prevent further defilement of the site. "The army controls Shechem ever since Operation Defensive Shield and everyone knows this,” a source in the Samaria authority said.
Several weeks ago there was a public outcry when it was reported that the Civilian Administration intended to assign the renovation work to a Palestinian Authority contractor. Contractors in Samaria wanted to carry out the work themselves, and local rabbis and leaders, too, said the job should be carried out by Jews. Israel's Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi Yonah Metzger also intervened to try and convince the authorities to let Jews rebuild the holy site.
However, according to Samaria spokesman David Ha'ivri, the IDF decided to let local Arabs carry put the work so as to save itself the difficulty of providing security for Jewish workers in the hostile environment of Shechem.
At the insistence of the Jewish establishment, though, the job of placing the large semi-oval rock onto the tomb was carried out by Jews.
Among those present at the laying of the slab were IDF Civil Administration Head Brig.-Gen. Yaakov Mordechai, Rabbi Elyakim Levanon of Elon Moreh and Rabbi David Dudkevich of Yitzhar.