image Photo: Flash90

IDF reinforces security at Joseph’s Tomb

The ancient bural site was severely damaged by Palestinians earlier this week.

By Erin Viner

About 100 Palestinians were filmed demolishing and setting fire the shrine, located in the Balata village on the outskirts of  the West Bank city of Nablus, after clashing with IDF forces. After being chased from the compound, the mob returned for a second consecutive day to renew the desecration.

The Biblical figure Joseph, son of Jacob, is believed to be buried at the holy site.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz called the vandalism of the Tomb “a grave event and a serious violation of freedom of worship in one of the holiest places for every Jew. It violates the feelings of the entire Jewish nation, especially when it occurs during the Muslim holy month.”

Jerusalem’s top defense official also confirmed that, “The State of Israel will take action to ensure that the site will be refurbished and quickly returned to its original condition,” and that “we will take all the measures necessary to prevent such incidents” in the future.

Lt. Gen. Gantz also revealed that he had “delivered a strong message to the Palestinian Authority, demanding the immediate reinforcement of their officials on-site” to take “decisive action against rioters and terrorists that harm stability and security in holy places.”

The IDF Spokesperson’s Unit announced the capture of at least one suspect in the city of Nablus for involvement in the heinous arson attack, that drew broad condemnation from the leadership in Jerusalem.

Several construction teams, accompanied by military forces from the IDF Samaria Brigade, have already begun renovations at the Tomb, in advance coordination with Israel’s Civil Administration at the Unit for the Coordination of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), that is overseeing the operation.

IDF snipers were reportedly positioned on nearby rooftops as the teams made their way to the site. The builders nevertheless came under assault by hundreds of Palestinians hurling rocks and firebombs at the soldiers, who responded with live fire and riot dispersal measures. According to the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit, an “armed suspect” was hit near Nablus. The Palestinian Health Ministry identified the assailant as Mohammed Assaf, 34, a lawyer who worked for a department of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) that documents and lobbies against Israeli settlement activity on land Palestinians seek for a state.

This week’s vandalism is the latest in a series of attacks on the holy site, which has been repeatedly looted and razed by rioting Palestinians since former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak granted control over it as part of the Oslo Peace Accords in 2000 to the Palestinian police – who had pledged to maintain its integrity and prevent any damage at the complex. Jewish worshippers are permitted to make coordinated monthly visits under IDF protection to pray at the site have also come under attack by local Palestinians.

At the start of his weekly Cabinet meeting, Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said he saw ”shocking pictures” of “dozens of Palestinian rioters in a frenzy of destruction” who “simply vandalized a holy place for us, the Jews. They shattered the headstone over the tomb and set fire to rooms in the complex.”

“We will not tolerate such an attack on a place that is holy for us, on the eve of Passover – and we will reach the rioters. Of course, we will see to the rebuilding of what has been destroyed, just as we always do.”

Vowing to end the current spate of deadly attacks against Israel, Bennett added: “Indeed, the State of Israel will do everything necessary to overcome this terrorism. We will settle accounts with everyone who was linked, either directly or indirectly, to the attacks. We are continuing to arrest those who have been involved in terrorism and are striking at the terrorists.”

He reiterated that, “there are no restrictions on the IDF, ISA (Israel Security Agency, known as the Shin Bet) and other security forces in the war against terrorism,” who are “operating around the clock to restore security and stop this wave of terrorism.”

Security forces have been on high alert following a series of attacks that have killed 14 people in Israel since late March, in the deadliest outbreak of terrorism since 2006. A Bedouin Arab murdered four people in a stabbing and car ramming attack in the southern Israeli city of Beersheba on 22 March, followed by the deadly shooting of two victims by two Arab gunmen in the central city of Hadera on 27 March. Israeli authorities said all of the assailants, who were killed during their deadly attacks, were loyal to Islamic State terror group. Five other people were shot to death in Bnei Brak on 29 March in an attack that was not claimed by any armed group, though residents of the West Bank village of Ya’bad linked the assailant to the Fatah party lead by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Three more Israelis were murdered by a Palestinian gunman in Tel Aviv on 7 April.