More than 3,000 Israeli Jews visited Joseph’s Tomb (Kever Yosef) in Samaria (Shomron) on Wednesday night to say selichot – traditional prayers of repentance – before Yom Kippur, which begins on Friday night.
But when they arrived, the worshipers were met with a sad sight: the holy site had been desecrated over the past month, during which time Jews were not allowed to pray there, and it was effectively under Palestinian Authority control.
During their time praying at the tomb, the worshipers came under attack by an Arab mob which threw stones and firebombs. One attacker opened fire with an automatic weapon.
Soldiers succeeded in fending off the attack, and only the shooter was seriously injured.
Deputy Minister of Religious Affairs Eli Ben-Dahan (Bayit Yehudi) said afterward that his feelings of awe at the opportunity to pray at Joseph’s Tomb had been mixed with horror at the vandalism.
The government must intervene, he said, adding, “I urge that government of Israel to enforce its right to sovereignty under the Oslo Accords.”
Under the Oslo Accords, signed by Israel and the Palestinian Authority, Shechem was assigned as Area A, and is under PA civilian and security control. The PA committed to allowing Jews to visit and pray at Joseph's Tomb, and is supposed to ensure security for visiting worshipers. However, the PA has rarely if ever lived up to its commitment, and attacks by rioting Arabs against Jews at the site are common.
In October 2000, at the start of the second "intifada,"or terror war, an Arab mob attacked the site, ransacking the tomb, desecrating Jewish holy items and partly destroying it, after driving out an Israeli border police detachment stationed there, one of whom was killed in the fighting, along with six attackers.
Rabbi Hillel Lieberman, dean (Rosh Yeshiva) of the "Od Yoseph Chai" yeshiva (Jewish seminary) which had been housed in the tomb was also murdered in that attack. Rabbi Lieberman was lynched as he tried to protect sacred Jewish items inside the tomb.
In 2011, Palestinian Authority policemen opened fire on a car carrying Jewish worshippers to the site, killing 24 year-old father of four Ben Yoseph Livnat.
Ben-Dahan’s plea was echoed by other MKs and local leaders at the site. “It’s outrageous that Jews who come to pray at the tomb of the righteous Joseph have to sneak in like thieves in the night, just because the Israeli government is afraid to exercise its sovereignty under the Oslo Accords,” said Gershon Mesika, head of the Samaria Regional Council.
MK Zevulun Kalfa (Bayit Yehudi) thanked the Samaria Regional Council for organizing the visit “and for its efforts to allow constant access, so as to not sever the tie to Joseph’s Tomb for a moment.”
“With G-d’s help, we will return,” he added.
Yossi Dagan of the Samaria Regional Council said, “We will continue to bring the Jewish people here, religious and secular, Israelis and visitors. Despite the vandalism we saw here – the damaged windows, the broken bathrooms, the broken ner tamid [candle] – we will continue to bring the nation here, until we make a full return.”