Yishai at Kever Yosef
Yishai at Kever YosefIsrael news photo: Miri Tzachi

Some 2,000 Israelis of all backgrounds – religious and secular, as well as a healthy contingent of IDF soldiers – visited the Tomb of Joseph (Kever Yosef) in Shechem Wednesday night. The visit, authorized by the IDF, was organized by the Samaria (Shomron) Regional Council and the Shechem Echad (One Shechem) organization.

Among those visiting the site were Interior Minister Eli Yishai, Samaria rabbinical leader Rabbi Elyakim Levanon, Samaria Council head Gershon Mesika, Rabbi David Dudkevich of Yitzhar, and Rabbi Eliezer Berland.

Over the past year, seven cabinet ministers and ten MKs visited the site at various times – with the MKs arriving in broad daylight, the first time an Israeli delegation has visited the site during the day in many years. Yishai is the highest-ranking minister to yet visit the site in recent years. Yishai's visit coincided with the recent completion of a refurbishing of the Tomb area.

The many visitors conducted prayers, with a mass reading of tehillim led by Rabbi Levanon and Rabbi Dudkevich. Yishai was clearly moved by the scene, and speaking at the event, called on the government to ensure a permanent Jewish presence at the site. “It is a great privilege to be here,” Yishai said. “We pray that G-d, in the merit of the righteous Joseph, will bring us the Messiah and the full redemption. I call on everyone here to take upon themselves and urge others to love their fellow Jews without hesitation. The Tomb of Joseph belongs to us. The visit by this group is very important and I hope that as a result we will be able to correct the injustice of a lack of a permanent Jewish presence here.”

Currently, Jews are allowed to visit the Tomb, which is in PA-controlled Shechem, by special permit of the IDF. Groups that attempt to pray there without such permits are often arrested by the army.

According to the Oslo Accords, Israelis are supposed to have free access to the site, but Arab rioters have several times destroyed the Tomb, and the IDF has barred Jews from going there because of fear of Arab violence.

Several Israelis have been killed at the site, most recently Ben-Yosef Livnat, who was murdered there by “PA police” earlier this year. Members of the Livnat family came to the Tomb on the Wednesday visit. Ben-Yosef was the nephew of Minister of Culture and Sport Limor Livnat.

After the murder, Arab rioters desecrated the Tomb yet again.

Speaking to reporters after the visit, Yishai told reporters that more building was needed in Judea and Samaria. “The right answer to the Arabs who keep desecrating the site and breaking their agreements with us would be 2,000 building permits for Yesha towns,” Yishai said.