Arab Vandals Desecrate Joseph's Tomb

Feb 26, 2003 04:57 PM EST

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 officials.

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.

Destroyed gravestone at traditional burial site for biblical patriarch Joseph.

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 guarded.

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

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 archeologists 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."

By Albert H. Lee
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