(FILES) A picture taken on November 4, 2010 shows Ultra Orthodox Jewish men rushing to pray at the renovated Tomb of Joseph, a biblical figure from the book of Genesis, in the northern Palestinian West Bank city of Nablus. AFP PHOTO/MENAHEM KAHANA (Photo credit MENAHEM KAHANA/AFP/Getty Images)

Israeli Soldier Wounded At Jewish Holy Site in West Bank

Hundreds of Jews visit site monthly; Palestinians say it’s a provocation

An Israeli soldier was shot and moderately wounding while guarding hundreds of religious Jews who were visiting the site known as Joseph’s Tomb in the West Bank city of Nablus. An army spokesman said the shots were fired at the entrance to the Balata refugee camp, which is located a few hundred yards from the tomb, on the outskirts of Nablus. Witnesses said Palestinians also burned tires and threw rocks and Molotov cocktails at troops.

For some Jews, the site is an important place for prayer. Dan Marans, who lives in the town of Beit Shemesh halfway between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, says he comes to pray at the site as often as he can.  Last night he was there celebrating his daughter’s wedding a few days earlier, during one of the monthly visits guarded by Israeli soldiers. He says the site is special to him.

“Everyone has a different Biblical figure they feel a connection to and for me, that figure is Joseph,” he told The Media Line. “When the Jews entered the land of Israel after the exile in Egypt, the first place went was Shechem (Hebrew for Nablus). That is where we made a covenant with God.”

Marans studied at the yeshiva, or Jewish religious institute, in Nablus more than 20 years ago. On one of their first dates,he and his wife studied Jewish texts together there. Now his daughter goes every month to pray at the site. He says the buses leave around midnight, arriving at the site at 2 am, and return after dawn.

Jews believe the site is the burial place of the Biblical Joseph, whose bones were brought from Egypt to the Holy Land, when the Jews returned. Muslims say it is the tomb of a sheikh, or religious leader, from the 18th century. The site is also in Area A, the 18 percent of the West Bank that is under complete Palestinian control, close to the Balata refugee camp.
The site has been a flashpoint for violence, most notably in 2000. After an Israeli border policeman was killed, Israel handed control of the site over to the Palestinian Authority, who burnt it to the ground, and painted the dome green, the color of Islam.

Israeli outrage intensified when the body of Rabbi Hillel Lieberman from the settlement of Elon Moreh was found the next morning near the site, where he had gone to check on damage to the tomb. Lieberman was a cousin of US Senator Joseph Lieberman, and the Palestinian Authority later repaired the tomb.

In an attempt to prevent future violence, Israel has limited access to the site to about once a month, when anywhere from 1000- 2000 come to pray during the night. There are frequent media reports of worshipers sneaking into the site. In 2011, Ben-Joseph Livnat, a nephew of then cabinet minister Limor Livnat, was killed by Palestinian security forces when they entered Joseph’s Tomb near Nablus without permission. Earlier this month, several dozen worshipers were arrested after doing the same thing.

Many in Israel believe that keeping the site open to Jews is essential.

“It doesn’t speak to me personally but I believe Israel has to be a place where we can accommodate the beliefs of everyone,” Dov Lipman, a former Israeli Knesset member and an Orthodox rabbi told The Media Line. ‘Just like we preserve holy sites for Muslims and Christians, we should support holy sites for Jews.”

Palestinian officials say these visits are meant as a provocation.

“This is not about praying and religious rights,” Palestinian spokesman Jamal Dajani told The Media Line. “This is about confrontation. Most of them are illegal settlers who show up with a convoy of armed soldiers. These are the same settlers who attack Palestinians’ olive groves. We do not have a good experience of neighborly relations.”





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