Overnight, 2,500 Israelis attended services at the ancient tomb of Joseph in the outskirts of Shechem. The service was coordinated by the IDF Civil Administration and border police.
At the last minute, the army attempted to bar entrance to the site to the worshippers. However, Gershon Mesika, Mayor of the Shomron Regional Council, insisted that the site's entrance be available consecutively from now until the High Holidays (the Jewish New Year and Yom Kippur) due to the high expectancy of worshipers visiting Joseph’s tomb.
Among the visitors last night was the Grand Rabbi [Rebbe] of the Hassidic sect of Nadvorna, his brother, and his followers; prominent Lithuanian Rabbi Mordechai Gross; and the Rabbi of Kfar Maimon and judge of the Upper Beit Din, Rabbi Eliezer Igra. They were accompanied by an additional 2,000 Israelis who came to pray in unison.
The Grand Rabbi of Nadvorna's attendance was part of a strategy to encourage unity between the hareidi-religious and religious-Zionist communities, in the face of what many see as a growing division between the two sectors. Gershon Mesika spoke with the Rabbi of Nadvorna about the importance of unity. One of the common fights they share is the struggle for Jewish rights at Joseph's tomb, he said.
As the Israelis traveled to the ancient holy site, Arab extremists hurled rocks at the bus in which they were travelling in, but no injuries or damages were reported. The suspects were pursued and detained by Israel Defense Forces, and were then transferred to Palestinian Authority security forces.
In 2000, the Israeli government relinquished control of the area to the Palestinian Authority, after which Arab rioters ransacked and destroyed the location. Under various agreements, Jewish worshippers are meant to have free, safe access to holy sites in PA-controlled areas, but since the Israeli withdrawal they have faced constant attacks from Arab extremists, and can only enter with an army escort.
Due to growing demand over the years, the Israeli government has sanctioned prayer services at the site, but only late at night due to fears of violence from PA attackers. Several deadly incidents have taken place at the site over the years. It is Mayor Gershon Mesika's goal to grant the Jewish population freedom to worship at Joseph's Tomb.