Prayers at Joseph's Tomb in Shechem
Prayers at Joseph's Tomb in Shechem Flash 90

More than 2,500 visitors from across the spectrum - national-religious, secular, hareidi, soldiers, kabbalists and others - prayed at the Tomb of Joseph (Kever Yosef) in Shechem last night, amid scenes of unity and joy. The visit was held in honor of the festival of Sukkot, and was coordinated with security forces, and in conjunction with the Shomron (Samaria) Regional Council and the "One Shechem" organization.

Among a number of notables present was the Chief Rabbi of the Israel Defense Forces, Rabbi Rafi Peretz .

Many of the soldiers who were providing security for the event joined in the prayer services, including Samaria Brigade Commander Col. Yoav Yarom. Worshippers also recited verses from Tehillim (Psalms), as part of prayers for the health of ailing Sephardic scholar Rabbi Ovadia Yosef (Chaim Ovadia ben Georgia). The spiritual leader of the Shas party is currently hospitalized in serious condition at Jerusalem's Hadassa Ein Kerem hospital.

David ben-Zion, who heads the Shomron Regional Council's Strategic Department, hailed the turnout, and called on the State of Israel to secure more regular visits to the holy site and for a return of the "Od Yoseph Chai" yeshiva (Jewish seminary) which was ransacked by Arab mobs in 2000, following the withdrawal of Israeli security forces from the area.

He also thanked security forces for securing the safe passage of Jewish visitors to the site.

In the past several years, the Shomron Regional Council and the One Shechem organization have taken it upon themselves to maintain Joseph's Tomb, in the face of repeated acts of vandalism, arson and other forms of desecration by local Arabs. In the past five years the Shomron Regional Council has succeeded in bringing more than 100,000 visitors to the site - which for many years was considered a "no-go" area due to Arab violence.

Joseph's Tomb is one of Judaism's holiest sites, and marks the burial place of the Biblical Joseph (Yosef). Under agreements with the Palestinian Authority (PA), which refers to the holy city by its Roman name "Nablus" (Napulus), whilst the PA would be handed civilian and security control of the city itself, Israeli citizens would be secured safe passage to the Tomb. However, the PA has rarely if ever lived up to its commitment, and attacks by rioting Arabs against Jews at the site are common.

Just over a week ago, after consecutive groups of Jewish worshippers were attacked by Arab mobs, terrorists opened fire on a group of Jews at the tomb, forcing them to run for cover. Israeli security forces returned fire and injured the attacker, who was transferred to an Israeli hospital for treatment.

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 border policeman 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. 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.