Joseph's Tomb construction
Joseph's Tomb constructionIsrael news photo: Shomron

Land of Israel loyalists, who have been devotedly working for years on behalf of Joseph’s Tomb, are up in arms at apparent plans to allow the Palestine Authority to refurbish the Arab-vandalized holy site.

It appears that the Civil Administration and the Rabbi of the Holy Sites joined together, for unknown reasons, to grant the PA the rights to revamp the holy Biblical site of Joseph’s Tomb in Shechem (Nablus).

“It is unthinkable,” says Yossi, a leading Shomron (Samaria) activist, “that after the Arabs of Shechem vandalized and desecrated the holy site, and after the battle ten years ago in which one of our soldiers was allowed to bleed to death, that the PA should now be granted this privilege of refurbishing the site whose destruction they had a hand in.”

“Furthermore,” he said, “why should we allow them to be able to brag to the world, ‘Look, we are refurbishing a Jewish holy site’ – especially since this is just the first step to what could easily become a PA takeover of the site in which they turn it into a mosque.”

As recently as 30 years ago, Joseph’s Tomb was located in a barren field outside the city of Shechem, but the city expanded, and the site now finds itself in the midst of a built-up urban area. By government decision, a yeshiva – Od Yosef Chai (Joseph Still Lives) – was established on the site, run by the Shomron Regional Council. Even after the Oslo Accords were signed in 1993, Israel was granted authority over the yeshiva, which remained active until the PA initiated the Oslo War in 2001 and overran the site.

In the coming months, Arabs vandalized and all but destroyed the holy site, breaking the dome, burning walls, smashing the giant gravestone, and filling the area with burnt tires, garbage and worse.

During the IDF’s anti-terrorism Operation Defensive Shield of 2002, the IDF took over security control of Shechem, and began allowing periodic visits to the site. One took place as recently as last night, when 500 people participated.

In the past year and a half, the IDF and Shomron elements have been rebuilding Joseph’s Tomb. The crowning achievement of their efforts is a decorative, iron construction to be placed atop the dome for protection. The entire site has been cleaned and painted, and following clear messages from the IDF, Arab vandals and graffiti writers have stayed away.

Suddenly and abruptly, it was learned this week that Civil Administration head Brig.-Gen. Yoav Mordechai had made a “grab,” granting the PA the right to complete the refurbishing. “It is totally inconceivable that those who had a hand in its destruction should now be allowed to return as generous heroes coming to fix up the place,” Shomron elements say. “Beyond the humiliation and warped nature of such a move, the PA will be able to trumpet themselves, and possibly even claim ownership and authority over the compound.”

Chief Rabbis Shlomo Amar and Yona Metzger have come out sharply against the idea. “If the PA receives the right to refurbish the holy gravesite,” they wrote, “it is clear that it will end up becoming a mosque…How can we give them authority and ownership over the place that is one of the three [in addition to Jerusalem and Hevron] that our Sages teach that the Gentiles cannot claim is not ours?... Such a disgrace cannot be allowed.’

The Civil Administration defended its decision by stating, inter alia, “After many years in which Joseph’s Tomb was forsaken, the Civil Administration and the IDF Central Command worked to clean and preserve it… The upcoming work will be carried out by a contractor hired partly in coordination with the PA, and has even received approval from the relevant religious authorities…”

Rabbi Shmuel Rabinovitch, Rabbi of the Holy Sites, is abroad, but his office released a statement saying that he would consult with the Chief Rabbis on this matter. A source in his office who wished to remain nameless made light of the matter, saying, “Most of the synagogues in Israel are built by Arabs, so what’s the big deal?”