TEL AVIV – Hundreds of Palestinian youth set fire on Friday to the Joseph’s Tomb complex, causing severe damage to the revered burial place.
Joseph’s Tomb, considered Judaism’s third holiest site, is the presumed burial place of the son of biblical Jacob, who was sold by his brothers into slavery and later became viceroy of Egypt.
Hundreds of young Palestinians surrounded the site and threw Molotov cocktails and other flammable objects at the tomb complex.
The attack comes amid a so-called wave of Palestinian terror fueled in large part by false rumors of a “Jewish threat” to the Al-Aqsa Mosque, considered Islam’s third holiest mosque. The mosque is located on the Temple Mount, Judaism’s most revered site.
According to local reports, Palestinian security forces intervened after the Palestinians started to break into the Joseph’s Tomb complex and began throwing firebombs inside the site.
Palestinian police took control by firing into the air to disperse the protesters. There were no reports of any arrests.
The Israel Defense Forces said it will make the necessary repairs to allow worshipers to visit the holy site.
Lt. Col. Peter Lerner, IDF spokesman to the foreign media, told WND in a statement: “The burning and desecration of Joseph’s tomb last night is a blatant violation and contradiction of the basic value of freedom of worship.”
Lerner said the IDF “will take all measures to bring the perpetrators of this despicable act to justice, restore the site to its previous condition and ensure that the freedom of worship returns to Joseph’s Tomb.”
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who himself has been making statements supporting fictitious claims of a Jewish threat to the Al-Aqsa Mosque, denounced the Joseph’s Tomb arson as “irresponsible.”
Knesset Member Avigdor Lieberman, chairman of the Yisrael Beiteinu party, compared the Palestinians’ torching of Joseph’s Tomb to acts of desecration and vandalism by ISIS.
“Setting fire to the tomb proves that the Palestinian Authority’s behavior is no different than ISIS: Young Palestinians took machetes and knives to kill Jews, and now they’re burning holy places and historical heritage sites, just as members of ISIS do,” he said.
Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel said the Joseph’s Tomb arson “is the result of Palestinian incitement.”
“While the Palestinians are lying through their teeth about the status quo on Temple Mount as a means to change it, they themselves are burning and desecrating the holy places of Israel,” he said.
“That is unforgivable.”
Joseph’s Tomb is located outside of Nablus, the biblical city of Shechem.
It is not the first time the Palestinians have attacked the tomb.
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 worshipers at the holy site by gunmen associated with militias of then-Palestinian Liberation Organization leader Yasser Arafat, 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 began to ransack the site. Palestinian mobs tore apart books, destroying prayer stands and grinding out stone carvings in the Tomb’s interior. A Muslim flag was hoisted over the tomb.
Israel first gained control of Nablus and the neighboring site of Joseph’s Tomb in the 1967 Six-Day War. The Oslo Accords agreed to by Arafat and Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin called for the area surrounding the tomb to be placed under Palestinian jurisdiction but open to 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 overtake 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 in Oct. 6, 2000.
In recent years, the IDF began providing protection for monthly Jewish visits to the site.