JERUSALEM – With Muslims worldwide protesting a now-retracted Newsweek report that claimed U.S. Army interrogators at Guantanamo Bay had flushed a Quran down the toilet, the father of a rabbi who was murdered while trying to defend a Jewish holy site from Palestinian rioters blasted Muslim leaders yesterday in an exclusive WorldNetDaily interview.

Rabbi Zevulun Lieberman, whose son Hillel died trying to save Joseph’s Tomb in the West Bank city of Nablus from Muslim rioters, told WND he is “sickened by this Muslim outcry when Muslims have shown the world they don’t have any respect for religion whatsoever. They lost the right to protest about disrespect for religion and holy objects a long time ago.”

Accusing Muslim leadership of using the Newsweek story to create “anti-American incitement,” Lieberman asked, “Where were the protesters when Muslims desecrated Joseph’s Tomb and other sites?”

In an issue dated May 9, Newsweek reported U.S. military investigators found evidence that interrogators placed copies of Islam’s holy book in washrooms and had flushed one down the toilet to get inmates to talk.

The report prompted demonstrations across the Muslim world, with thousands rallying in Afghanistan, Pakistan Indonesia and Gaza City to denounce America. At least 15 people died in riots in Afghanistan alone.

Yesterday, Newsweek officially retracted the story.

Lebanon’s most senior Shiite Muslim cleric said the alleged desecration is part of an American campaign aimed at disrespecting and smearing Islam. Spiritual leaders in Afghanistan gave the U.S. three days to respond to the accusations. The 22-nation Arab League issued a statement saying if the allegations panned out, Washington should apologize to Muslims.

Qazi Hussain Ahmed, a hard-line Pakistani Islamist leader and opposition lawmaker, said Islamic groups in Pakistan, Egypt, Malaysia, Britain, Turkey and other countries would hold more rallies to protest the alleged desecration.

In its retraction, Newsweek stated, “Based on what we know now, we are retracting our original story that an internal military investigation had uncovered Quran abuse at Guantanamo Bay.”

In a note to readers in its current issue, Newsweek Editor Mark Whitaker said the magazine’s information came from “a knowledgeable U.S. government source,” who, he said, later could not be sure he had read about the alleged Quran incident in the report that was cited.

Tomb desecrated

In October 2000, after Israeli troops evacuated the city of Nablus as a peacemaking gesture, scores of Palestinians stormed into the Joseph’s Tomb compound and destroyed the site believed to be the 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.

The 1993 Oslo Accords put Joseph’s Tomb under Israeli jurisdiction, but on Oct. 7, 2000, then-Prime Minister Ehud Barak ordered a unilateral retreat, based on a Palestinian agreement to protect the site.

Within hours of the Israeli withdrawal, smoke was seen billowing from the tomb as an Arab crowd burned Jewish prayer books and other holy objects. Palestinians used pickaxes, hammers and later bulldozers to tear apart the stone building. The dome of the tomb was painted green, and a mosque was subsequently erected in its place.

Destroyed gravestone at traditional burial site for biblical patriarch Joseph.

Rabbi Hillel Lieberman, who lived nearby, headed by foot to the tomb when he heard of its desecration, hoping, his family said, to save any Torah scrolls or other holy objects that might have been left intact.

Lieberman disappeared. His bullet-ridden body was found the next day in a cave.

“[Hillel] was unarmed, wearing a tallit (Jewish prayer shawl), and he was brutally murdered by our enemies who want to erase our existence,” said Yehudit Tayar, spokeswoman for the Council of Jewish Communities in Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip.

Hillel’s father, Zevulun, a religious instructor at Yeshiva University, told WND: “If indeed the Quran was flushed down the toilet, that is despicable. But now they protest? The religion that actually desecrated the grave of Joseph, the great-grandson of Abraham?

“Nowhere in the parameters of humanity is it tolerable to destroy a holy site. The Muslims did something even an animal wouldn’t do. Only humans who are completely sick with no sense of reason can do such a thing. And only a religion that is beyond the pale of humanity can sit back and not protest such an act.”

Lieberman accused Islamic leaders of using the Newsweek article to spur anti-American incitement: “These leaders, who have no conscience, they aren’t upset for religious reasons. It’s just an excuse.”

Building at Joseph’s Tomb site after Palestinian Authority took control.

Susan Roth, director of the Eshet Chayil Foundation, one of the main benefactors of the biblical matriarch Rachel’s Tomb, to which surviving artifacts of Joseph’s Tomb were recently transferred, told WND: “There was almost total silence in the Muslim world when Palestinians blew up Jews at their Passover seder, when Joseph’s tomb was desecrated, and even overall with regard to terrorism.”

Roth was referring to a Hamas suicide bombing March 2002 that killed 30 and injured 140 when a bomb was exploded in the midst of a Passover seder at an Israeli hotel.

Nathan Katz, professor of religion at Florida International University, told WorldNetDaily: “Joseph’s tomb is one of many, many examples of a lack of Muslim respect for religious sites and objects, and the silence of Islamic leaders following such desecrations.”

He cited the desecration of the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem by Palestinian gunmen in April 2002, and the dynamiting of 2,000-year old giant Buddhist statues at Bamian, Afghanistan, by the Taliban regime in March 2001.

“In fact, those statues, destroyed by the Taliban, were first defaced when the Arabs came to Afghanistan in the late seventh and early eighth century. They cut the faces off the statues then. Later, the Taliban completely wrecked them. Like Joseph’s Tomb, the Muslims were largely silent.”

Israeli archeologists say they have convincing documentation of the authenticity of Joseph’s Tomb’s, dating to biblical times. The book of Joshua says, according to the New International Version, “Joseph’s bones, which the Israelites had brought up from Egypt, were buried at Shechem (Nablus) in the tract of land that Jacob bought for a hundred pieces of silver from the sons of Hamor, the father of Shechem. This became the inheritance of Joseph’s descendants.”

Said Daniel Pipes, director of the Middle East Forum: “This sequence of events reflects badly on everyone concerned: Newsweek, a stalwart of mainstream media, that can neither get its facts right nor its apology convincing; the U.S. government, which talked about the ‘Holy Quran,’ thereby falling into its old pattern of promoting Islam; and the Muslim masses, which took to the streets in lethal anger on nothing more than unconfirmed (and latterly rescinded) hearsay. This episode contains within it many lessons; let us hope they are properly learned.”

“Either Muslims respect religion,” Leiberman said, “and they protest their own intolerable and repeated desecrations, or they don’t. They can’t have it both ways.”

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Rachel’s Tomb: Back in business

Arab vandals desecrate Joseph’s Tomb

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