JERUSALEM – Security forces acting on orders from Prime Minister Ehud Olmert yesterday destroyed a synagogue used by Jews to worship near Joseph’s Tomb, Judaism’s third holiest site and the believed burial place of the biblical patriarch Joseph – the son of Jacob who was sold by his brothers into slavery and later became the viceroy of Egypt.
Under the 1993 Oslo Accords, which granted nearby strategic territory to the Palestinians, Joseph’s Tomb was supposed to be accessible to Jews and Christians. But following repeated attacks against Jewish worshippers at the holy site by gunmen associated with then-PLO leader Yasser Arafat’s militias, Prime Minister Ehud Barak in October 2000 ordered an Israeli unilateral retreat from the area.
The tomb is located near the modern day West Bank city of Nablus, or biblical Shechem.
Currently, Jewish pilgrimage to Joseph’s Tomb is legal only several times per year in convoys protected by the Israel Defense Forces. Still, some Jews regularly attempt clandestine visits to the holy site.
Jewish students last year built a structure on the West Bank’s Mount Gerizim, which is just outside the tomb area. The structure was used as a synagogue and was constructed on the Mount so Jews can pray and study Torah as close to the tomb site as possible. Dozens of Jewish students congregated daily at the makeshift synagogue.
But Olmert’s office and Israeli government officials deemed the structure – which they refused to call a synagogue – illegal since it was built without a government permit.
Building at Joseph’s Tomb site after Palestinian Authority took control in 2000 .
Yesterday, under direct orders from Olmert, the Israel Civil Lands Administration destroyed the structure.
Just before the synagogue was bulldozed, one Jewish student told the Israel National News website, “If the synagogue is destroyed, it will be rebuilt.”
Olmert’s decision to single out for demolition the synagogue near Judaism’s third holiest site has been called into question by religious leaders here.
While Jewish construction projects deemed illegal in Jewish cities in the West Bank is regularly bulldozed by the government, Olmert’s office has taken no action against hundreds of thousands of Palestinians living in illegal outposts in the West Bank and Jerusalem.
WND previously exposed the Israeli government has allowed Palestinians and the United Nations to build illegally on hundreds of acres of Jewish-owned lands in Jerusalem purchased by the Jewish National Fund, a U.S.-based Jewish organization, using Jewish donors funds solicited for the purpose of Jewish settlement. Tens of thousands of Palestinians live on the Jewish-owned Jerusalem land, which was recently isolated from Jewish sections of Jerusalem by Israel’s security barrier.
Yeshiva at third holiest site turned into mosque
The Torah describes how Jacob purchased a land plot in Shechem, which was given as inheritance to his sons and was used to re-inter Joseph, whose bones were taken out of Egypt during the Jewish exodus. Joseph’s sons, Ephraim and Manasseh, are also said to be buried at the site.
As detailed in the Torah, shortly before his death, Joseph asked the Israelites to vow they would resettle his bones in the land of Canaan – biblical Israel. That oath was fulfilled when, according to the Torah, Joseph’s remains were taken by the Jews from Egypt and reburied at the plot of land Jacob had earlier purchased in Shechem, believed to be the site of the tomb. Modern archeologists confirm Nablus is the biblical city of Shechem
Yehuda Leibman, who until the Israeli retreat from Joseph’s Tomb in 2000 was director of a yeshiva constructed there, explained, “The sages tell us that there are three places which the world cannot claim were stolen by the Jewish people: the Temple Mount, the Cave of the Patriarchs and Joseph’s Tomb.”
There is evidence suggesting for more than 1,000 years Jews of various origins worshipped at Joseph’s Tomb. The Samaritans, a local tribe that follow a religion based on the Torah, say they trace their lineage back to Joseph himself and that they worshipped at the tomb site for more than 1,700 years.
Israel first gained control of Nablus and the neighboring site of Joseph’s Tomb in the 1967 Six-Day War. The Oslo Accords signed by Arafat and Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin called for the area surrounding the tomb site to be placed under Palestinian jurisdiction but allowed for continued Jewish visits to the site and the construction of an Israeli military outpost at the tomb to ensure secure Jewish access.
Following the transfer of control of Nablus and the general area encompassing the tomb to the Palestinians in the early 1990s, there were a series of outbreaks of violence in which Arab rioters and gunmen from Arafat’s Fatah militias shot at Jewish worshipers and the tomb’s military outpost.
Six Israeli soldiers were killed and many others, including yeshiva students, were wounded in September 1996 when Palestinian rioters and Fatah gunmen attempted to over take the tomb. Eventually, Israeli soldiers regained control of the site.
The Palestinians continued to attack Joseph’s Tomb with regular shootings and the lobbing of firebombs and Molotov cocktails. Security for Jews at the site increasingly became more difficult to maintain. Rumors circulated in 2000 that Barak would evacuate the Israeli military outpost and give the tomb to Arafat as a “peacemaking gesture.”
In early 2000, the Israeli army began denying Jewish visits to the tomb on certain days due to prospects of Arab violence.
Following U.S. mediated peace talks at Camp David in September 2000, Arafat returned to the West Bank and initiated his intifada.
During one bloody week in October 2000, Fatah gunmen attacked the tomb repeatedly, killing two and injuring dozens, prompting Barak to order a complete evacuation of Judaism’s third holiest site on Oct. 6.
Gravestone at traditional burial site for biblical patriarch Joseph after it was ransacked by Palestinian mobs.
Within less than an hour of the Israeli retreat, Palestinian rioters overtook Joseph’s Tomb and reportedly began to ransack the site. Palestinian mobs reportedly tore apart books, destroying prayer stands and grinding out stone carvings in the Tomb’s interior.
Palestinians hoisted a Muslim flag over the tomb. Amin Maqbul, an official from Arafat’s office, visited the tomb to deliver a speech declaring, “Today was the first step to liberate (Jerusalem).”
One BBC reporter described the scene: “The site was reduced to smoldering rubble – festooned with Palestinian and Islamic flags – cheering Arab crowd. …”
Palestinians on Oct. 10 began construction of a mosque on the rubble of the tomb’s adjacent yeshiva compound. Workers painted the dome of the compound green, the Islamic color.
In a WND exclusive interview, Tariq Tarawi, a Fatah lawmaker who in 2000 served as chief of the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades terror group in the vicinity of the tomb, said the Palestinians would “never” allow Israel to rebuild a yeshiva or synagogue at Joseph’s Tomb. The Brigades carried out most of the attacks against the tomb site.
“A yeshiva is an institution,” said Tarawi. “An institution can be the beginning of claiming rights and these claims can bring once again the Israeli army to establish a base in the place, and we can not accept this. If the Jews try to build a yeshiva, we will shoot at them.”
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