As part of the restoration and renovation of the ransacked tomb of biblical hero Joseph, the Samaria (Shomron) Regional Council has teamed up with the University of Ariel to encourage students to envision a bigger, better Tomb of Joseph complex.
In an interview with Israel National Radio's Yishai Fleisher, Director of the Shomron Liason Office David Ha'ivri revealed that reconstruction of the site has already begun, 10 years after the holy site was ravaged by local Arabs. Moreover, the site may soon see a dramatic face lift, thanks to a group of students at the nearby University of Ariel's architectural school.
In a recent bid to draw attention to the importance of the Tomb and elicit assistance in restoring it, Shomron Regional Council head Gershon Mesika turned to the University of Ariel's architectural school, an elite program containing 350 students. Students are competing to design a winning plan for the full restoration and rebuilding of the entire complex of Joseph's Tomb. The plans must allow for the pilgrimage of thousands of visitors annually, as well as for a Torah study center. Submissions must include a layout and model, as well as research on the history and biblical significance of the site, as well as programs that should be conducted there.
"The meeting [with representatives of the school] was very inspirational, to meet with Israelis who are secular Zionists and to see their enthusiasm about rebuilding the historical holy site of Joseph's Tomb and reconnecting, building the connection between the people of Israel and their history and our Bible and biblical figures," said Ha'Ivri. "We have seen the connection of people who are religious and understand the Torah significance of Joseph the Righteous one and wish to connect with him, but to see the revival of the connection of the regular secular Israeli to the site is truly amazing."
Ha'ivri encouraged all interested parties to get involved in the restoration by contacting him via Facebook or e-mail.
Attacked and ravaged
The Tomb is located in the ancient Jewish biblical city of Shechem (known by the Arabs as 'Nablus,' a corruption of the Roman name 'Neapolis'). In 1996, during the rioting that followed the opening of the Kotel Tunnel, Arabs attacked an IDF force at Joseph's Tomb, killing six soldiers. Four years later, at the start of the terror war known by the Arabs as the 'Al-Aqsa Intifada' in October of 2000, the Tomb of Joseph and Jewish worshippers at the site were again attacked by local Arabs. Using firearms, rocks and firebombs, Arab civilians laid siege to the Tomb of Joseph compound, attempting to kill IDF soldiers and worshippers. Druze IDF soldier Mahdhat Yousef was wounded and eventually died of loss of blood because the Defense Minister and the IDF top command were reluctant to use extreme force to rescue him.
Following the attacks, then-Prime Minister Ehud Barak ordered a unilateral IDF withdrawal from the site. An agreement was reached with the Palestinian Authority that the PA would safeguard the location in accordance with the Oslo Accords, and would ensure access to the site for Jews and Chrisitians.
Within two hours of the IDF retreat, an Arab mob descended on the Tomb, burning furniture and books, and ultimately razing the structure to the ground. The Associated Press reported that the dome of the tomb was painted green and bulldozers were brought in to destroy the compound.
The Tomb of Joseph is one of the most undisputed archeological sites in Israel, and is mentioned several times in the Book of Genesis as the resting place of the bones of Joseph, whose descendants brought him to Israel from Egypt for burial.
Now, thanks to Mesika and his colleague Ha'Ivri, the site is beginning to return to its rightful inheritors.
Seven bad years
For seven years, Jews had no access to the Tomb of Joseph. However, with the ascendance of Mesika to the position of regional council head, coordination with the IDF has led to many organized visits by Jews. "The very first thing [Mesika] did before even coming into his office in the municipal complex [located in Barkan] was to contact the army and ask for authorization to visit the Tomb of Joseph. The commanders of the IDF have been so good working with us and providing visits for Jewish people, and recently, have been very helpful in providing the work that has needed to be done to restore and rebuild Joseph's Tomb," said Ha'ivri.
"Whereas the dome of the tomb was once covered with burn marks and a consisted largely of a gaping hole, it is has now been rebuilt and renovated. There is great actual physical progress going on that has been made possible through the lobbying and all of the events that Gershon Mesika has been pushing over the last 3 years," added Ha'ivri.
That progress has included monthly organized visits to the Tomb by Jews, with the protection of IDF soldiers
Yet Ha'ivri lamented that Jews still don't have free and total access to the Tomb, which is currently an Area A Palestinian Authority zone closed off to Jews.
"We still have a lot of work to do to restore our full connection with Joseph's Tomb and to rebuild the yeshiva that operated there 10 years ago and that will operate there in the future," he said.