After having been destroyed by Palestinian Authority vandals, the newly refurbished Joseph’s Tomb structure was dedicated last night in the presence of three Cabinet ministers.
Joseph’s Tomb – once in a field outside Shechem (Nablus), and now surrounded by new, already slum-like homes in the expanding Arab occupied city – became an official Israeli Holy Site under the auspices of the government shortly after its liberation during the 1967 Six Day War.
In 2001, the Oslo Accords granted the Palestinian Authority control of the city of Shechem, but this did not include Joseph’s Tomb. The PA, however, created “facts on the ground” by attacking the site. During the battle, wounded IDF soldier Madhat Yusuf bled to death in the tomb; the Israeli commanders believed the PA promises that he would be rescued, rather than the requests of the beleagured soldiers defending the tomb and did not send in additional IDF forces.
Israel retained official control over the site, but was only able to exercise it in coordination with the PA. Visitors to the holy site dwindled over the years; Jews visited only either clandestinely or four times a year in army-organized midnight visits.
Last Sukkot (October 2010), in a complex, delicate, night-long engineering operation, a new five-ton gravestone was placed over the approximately 3,250-year-old gravesite. (The age of the site is derived from the fact that Joseph’s bones were buried shortly after the Israelites entered the Holy Land and Joshua’s death, as per Joshua 24.)
The Jewish companies of Har Kabir and Shechem Echad organized the effort, together with the Shomron Regional Council and the IDF. At the same time, the entire site – the site of the Od Yosef Chai (Joseph Still Lives) yeshiva since 1980 – was refurbished in stages, with most of the work being carried out by Shomron residents and IDF soldiers.
The original stone and surrounding structure had been burned, vandalized and almost totally destroyed over the years by Arabs of Shechem.
Thousands took part in the emotional and moving dedication ceremony late last night, including Shomron Regional Rabbi Elyakim Levanon, Shomron Regional Council Chairman Gershon Mesika, and guests from Israel and abroad.
With tears in his eyes, Science Minister Rabbi Prof. Daniel Herskovitz recited the She’hecheyanu blessing, thanking G-d for the return to the site and.said, “Even with the Oslo Accords, this site belongs to the State of Israel. We were sadly forced to leave ten years ago, but thank G-d, we have merited to return".
Diaspora Affairs Minister Yuli Edelstein, a former Soviet refusenik, said with similar emotion, “We want to be able to come here once again not in the middle of the night with military protection, but with families, babies, and Torah study freely and regularly.”
Transportation Minister Moshe Kachlon added, “We are here from Haifa, Netanya, and all over, and it is a very joyful and emotional moment… it turns out that the Jewish Nation and the Land of our Forefathers are stronger than anything else – and with G-d’s help, we will remain here for many years to come.”
Mesika said, “This is a symbolic closing of a circle, a small correction of the shame and abandonment of Kever Yosef over these years. Joseph was one who united the various parts of Israel, and we thank the IDF for the ongoing partnership in strengthening this site...I call upon the government to officially resolve to make this into a truly Jewish site, with families living here.”
Just before the main celebration, another emotional ceremony for first graders from nearby Elon Moreh was held, in which the pupils received their first prayerbook. Among the participants were rabbis, municipal council members from around the country, senior army officers, and Rabbi Mordechai Gross of Bnei Brak. Many soldiers tearfully prayed and recited Psalms together with the civilians.