Nablus: not allowed to visit Joseph's Tomb!

Yesterday, while in Nablus, we went to Joseph’s Tomb – just on the edge of downtown Nablus, and near Balata and Askar refugee camps.

There was no one else there as we parked next to the low white-washed domes.

But there was a Palestinian Security post right across the streets. One soldier/policeman came with his big gun, and said we were not allowed to be there. He gestured at the top of the mountain facing us. There I saw one of the concrete cylindrical Pillbox” towers used by Israeli forces. The Palestinian policeman said the Israelis either had, or would momentarily be, calling him on the radio to say we weren’t allowed to be there.

But, I said, the Oslo Accords provide for free access to all religious sites.

Oslo Accords, Shmoslo Accords, we couldn’t be there, and we had to leave immediately, without even getting a peek inside.

What is this?

I hadn’t realized that Joseph’s Tomb was really very near the center of Nablus, and just adjacent to one of the largest and perhaps most volatile Palestinian refugee camps (Balata)… And it’s here that the IDF escorts large groups of national-religious Jewish settlers on a periodic basis in the middle of the night to dance and sing until the crack of dawn (when, for security reasons, they leave, under IDF escort…)

The Jewish Virtual Library reports that “Joseph’s Tomb is located in the heart of Nablus, in the Palestinian Authority-controlled
West Bank. Conflicting views exist as to whether or not the patriarch Joseph was buried there; nevertheless, the tomb is recognized as a Jewish shrine, albeit a minor one. According to Jewish tradition, Joseph was buried in the biblical town of Shechem, which is near the present-day city of Nablus. Some archeologists believe that the site is only a few centuries old and may contain the remains of a Muslim sheikh named Yossef. Following the 1967 War, Israel regained access to the site [n.b. from 1948 to 1967 the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, was under the control of the Jordanian Army; from 1950 it was under Jordanian administration] and a small Jewish seminary was built there in the 1980’s. The site was also used as a military outpost, and a number of soldiers were stationed there to protect the seminary students and the site itself. Nablus was returned to the Palestinians in 1995, but the Israelis retained control over the site. When violent clashes between Israelis and Palestinians began in the West Bank in October 2000, six Palestinians and one Israeli were killed in fighting around the tomb. The Israeli army subsequently agreed to withdraw on October 7 and turn over control of the site to the Palestinian police, who were supposed to guard it. Instead, the Palestinian Police stood by as a mob ransacked the site, burned books and destroyed reading stands; the mob also burned down the army outpost. On that same day, an American-born rabbi, who taught at the seminary, was found slain outside Nablus. The Mayor of Nablus, Ghassan Shakaa, said that the site would be repaired. Workers were seen fixing the damage, however, they were also painting the top of the dome green – the color of Islam. [s n.b – as noted above, it is now white] Workers say that they want to return the shrine to its former appearance” … This can be read in full here.

Another website, Palestine Facts dot org, states that “Israel’s withdrawal from the site was later understood as a grave strategic error. It marked the first time that the IDF had withdrawn under fire, surrendering territory to Palestinian Arab violence. Coming barely a week after the start of the al-Aqsa Intifada, the retreat from Joseph’s Tomb sent a dangerous signal to Yasser Arafat, confirming that violence would force Israel to capitulate. The retreat was also an affront to Jewish history and tradition, as Joseph’s Tomb had long been a focus of Jewish pilgrimage and prayer. The late Dr. Zvi Ilan, one of Israel’s foremost archeologists, described Joseph’s Tomb as: ‘… one of the tombs whose location is known with the utmost degree of certainty and is based on continuous documentation since biblical times‘. (“Tombs of the Righteous in the Land of Israel”, p. 365) The Book of Joshua (24:32) states explicitly: ‘The bones of Joseph which the Children of Israel brought up from Egypt were buried in Shechem in the portion of the field that had been purchased by Jacob‘. (See also Gen. 33:19; Gen, 48:21-22; Gen. 50:24-25.) The Midrash and other ancient texts mention the site, as did the early Church historian Eusebius of Caesarea, who visited it nearly 1,700 years ago. Arab geographers, medieval Jewish pilgrims, Samaritan historians and 19th-century British cartographers provide consistent confirmation of the site’s location and verification as the true tomb of the Patriarch Joseph. After thousands of years of veneration by all faiths, Palestinian Arabs suddenly asserted the site was the tomb of a different holy man, a Muslim named Joseph, giving them an excuse to convert the location into a mosque [??? – n.b., It is not a mosque] The strategic error of withdrawing from Joseph’s Tomb is unlikely to be repeated. When fire bombings and gunfire resumed at Rachel’s Tomb outside Bethlehem in 2002, the Israeli cabinet decided to include the site, by then fortified with barbed wire and concrete structures, within the boundaries of a security zone to be constructed around Jerusalem”… here.

I was allowed to visit Rachel’s Tomb, in Bethlehem, accompanied by two women colleagues — one Palestinian and one European — in an impromptu and unannounced visit in 2004. We were initially in danger of our lives as one Israeli soldier on guard pointed his rifle at us and moved it menacingly, with his finger on the trigger, until a higher ranking Israeli officer ran out of the Tomb and loped toward us in long strides, to tell us we could enter and escorting us inside where were were free to spend a half-hour (even longer, if we had wanted) in contemplation in the women’s section. Because of the higher-ranking soldier’s actions, we were treated impeccably. [I wonder if we could count on the same courtesy today? And, by the way, we were modestly dressed in jeans and jackets…]

But I was not allowed to visit Joseph’s Tomb in Nablus yesterday – was it due entirely to a lazy Palestinian security officer and his colleagues? Or were the IDF soldiers on top of the small mountain across from the tomb also involved in this denial of our freedom of religious expression?

7 thoughts on “Nablus: not allowed to visit Joseph's Tomb!”

  1. “[n.b. from 1948 to 1967 the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, was under the control of the Jordanian Army; from 1950 it was under Jordanian administration]”

    Just small, but meaningful inaccuracy in your writing:
    the West Bank from 1948 to 1967 was under Jordanian occupation.

  2. “Inaccuracy”? Not really.

    Jordanian “administration”, Jordanian “occupation” – there is not a very big difference… A choice of words, not an “inaccuracy”…

  3. Israel extended its administration over East Jerusalem in 1967…
    Israel says the West Bank is “administered”…
    but what Israel administers is an occupation (on the cheap, some say, because the former “Civil Administration” was disbanded after the Oslo Accords).

    What is the “Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT)? And, what is the “Civil Administration” in Beit El?

    The line is becoming more and more blurry…

    Still, outside international experts call this a “belligerent military occupation”, maintained by quite overt force.

    Jordan arranged to have some West Bank notables request or demand Jordanian Administration in 1950… It probably looked prettier, and people did have more fun.

    But in both cases, it is huge violation of very fundamental rights

  4. Israel never annexed the West Bank, as Jordan did on April 24, 1950 (despite the opposition of the Arab League).
    So, you may feel free to use therms like:
    “Occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem by Jordan, 1948 – 1967”
    “Occupation of the Gaza Strip by Egypt, 1947–1967”

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