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Building at Joseph’s Tomb site after Palestinian Authority took control in 2000 .
JERUSALEM – Palestinians yesterday tried to burn down Joseph’s Tomb – Judaism’s third holiest site – according to Palestinian security officials speaking to WND.
It marks the second time the Palestinians attempted to burn down the tomb, located near Nablus, the biblical city of Shechem.
Joseph’s Tomb is the believed burial place of the biblical patriarch Joseph, the son of Jacob who was sold by his brothers into slavery and later became viceroy of Egypt.
Palestinian security officials in Nablus said yesterday they were called to the tomb to find 16 burning tires inside the sacred structure.
A Palestinian police official who inspected the site told WND today there was some fire damage to the tomb. He said the Palestinian Authority, fearing embarrassment, immediately formed a joint committee from the PA’s Force 17, Preventative Security Services and Palestinian intelligence, to find out who was behind the fire.
He said patrols were stepped up around the site.
A spokesman for the Israel Defense Forces said the IDF was not aware of the fire or any unusual activity near the tomb but that it would immediately inquire with the PA.
The move comes after Prime Minister Ehud Olmert announced last week he would ask Israel’s Defense Ministry to work with the PA to reconstruct and restore the tomb, parts of which were destroyed by Palestinians, including known PA security officers, in 2000.
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-Palestinian Liberation Organization leader Yasser Arafat’s militias, then-Prime Minister Ehud Barak in October 2000 ordered an Israeli unilateral retreat from the area.
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 also constructed a mosque on the rubble of the tomb’s adjacent yeshiva compound. Workers painted the dome of the compound green, the Islamic color.
Third holiest site turned into mosque
The Torah describes how Jacob purchased a land plot in Shechem, which was given as an 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.
Gravestone at traditional burial site for biblical patriarch Joseph after it was ransacked by Palestinian mobs.
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 Oct. 6.
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.”
To interview Aaron Klein, contact M. Sliwa Public Relations by e-mail, or call 973-272-2861 or 212-202-4453.