Joseph's Tomb
Joseph's TombINN

Four Jewish pilgrims from the United States were arrested before dawn on Friday in Shechem as they sought to pray at Joseph's Tomb.

The four, associated with the Bratslav Hassidic group were confronted at gunpoint by Palestinian Authority police and taken into custody before reaching the grave site.

They were handed over to Israeli police and taken to the Ariel police station.

"Americans are allowed to stay in Nablus and their summary arrest is a violation of international law," a friend of the four detainees said.

David Ha'ivri of the Shomron Liaison Office who has been directly involved in efforts to allow access for Jews to Joseph's tomb also decried the arrest.

"This arrest show the irony of the false claims that Israel is apartheid. While Arabs have free access to all areas in Israel, Jewish people are denied access to holy places that are in PA areas administrated by the PLO," Ha'Ivri said.

"It is outrageous that this discrimination and harassment is going on while the PA is supported through funding of the American and EU governments. Joseph's tomb must be reopened for full free access for all Jewish people regardless to their citizenship," he added. 

Israel ceded security and administrative control of Shechem to the Palestinian Authority on 2 October 2000 under the auspices of then-Prime Minister Ehud Barak.

Upon handing the site over to the PA it was pillaged and extensively vandalized by local Arabs.

The next morning the bullet-riddled body of Rabbi Hillel Lieberman, a US citizen who immigrated to Israel and resided in Elon Moreh, was found on the outskirts of Shechem, where he had gone to survery the damage done to the tomb

After these events Barak's government restricted Israeli access to the site.

Israelis did not return to Joseph's Tomb until after Operation Defensive Shield in 2002, after which Israelis were allowed access to the site only with an IDF escort.

However, security coordination between IDF and PA forces has been sporadic and the size and frequency of Israeli visits has been limited.

Under this situation, many frustrated Bratslav Hassidim have sought to covertly visit Joseph's Tomb under the cover of darkness.

Vandalism by local Arabs is routinely reported by Jewish worshipers who reach the site. In late 2009, a group of Jewish worshipers found the headstone smashed and swastikas painted on the walls, as well as boot prints on the grave itself.

Reaching the gravesite without an IDF escort has proved a dangerous undertaking for Jews.

On 24 April 2011, Israeli Ben Yosef Livnat was gunned down in cold blood by a PA security officer in the pre-dawn hours as he sought to reach the tomb. Four of his companions were wounded.

The PA inquiry into the incident found that the men who shot at Livnat acted in "breach of the protocol" for opening fire.

However, the commander of the IDF’s Samaria Brigade said in closed conversations that Livnat was murdered and that the PA police officer who opened fire intended to kill Jews.

Livnat, the son of US immigrants to Israel and nephew of Minister Limor Livnat, was declared a victim of terror by current defense minister Ehud Barak.