February 25, 2003.
The sacred Jewish site regarded as the grave of the biblical patriarch Joseph
has been turned into a pile of rubble by Arab vandals, according to Israeli
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon confirmed Sunday that the large stone
marking the grave was destroyed some time during the past two weeks, the
Israeli News Network said.
Minister Natan Sharansky wants the foreign ministry to publicize photos of the
desecrated site, which is in the Palestinian Authority-controlled town of Nablus,
the biblical Shechem.
“If we would have razed the gravesite of one of the founders of Islam,
billions of Muslims would have taken to the streets,” Sharansky said.
“It’s inconceivable that the world should not know about this travesty.”
The Oslo Accords put the site 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.
But within hours, smoke was seen billowing from the tomb as a crowd burned
Jewish prayer books and other articles. With pickaxes and hammers they began
to tear apart the stone building. Two days later the dome of the tomb had been
painted green and bulldozers were clearing the area.
Israeli authority was restored to the site during last April’s Operation Defensive
Shield, but Israeli worshippers are not allowed to visit and it is not regularly
Members of the Hassidic Breslover sect have been arrested in attempts
to reach the tomb.
The Od Yosef Chai Yeshiva, a Jewish center for learning that was closed down
at the time of the initial Israeli retreat, issued a press release last week
demanding the “immediate safeguarding” of the tomb. The center also asked
that it be allowed to reopen its doors on the site.
Yehuda Liebman, the head of Od Yosef Chai Yeshiva, told the Jerusalem
Post that while the attacks have become more severe, the grave had always
been left intact.
Israeli government spokesman Ra’anan Gissin said that the government will find
a way to protect the site.
The Israeli news agency Arutz-7 News reports Israel Defense Forces is
interested in restoring a Jewish civilian presence to Joseph’s Tomb. “Army
officers requested that the government enable Jews to pray and study there, as
they did before the Oslo War, but the government did not do so,” Lt.-Col. Rabbi
Avi Ronsky said.
Gissin said the desecration “shows the moral bankruptcy of the
Palestinian Authority and points to the critical need for a change in leadership.”
Israeli archaeologists say they have convincing documentation of the site’s
authenticity, 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 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.”