Redeem the Captive

In the early hours of the morning on Friday, October 16, an outrageous assault took place, one that should have aroused indignation across the civilized world.

In an act of unrestrained barbarism, a mob of over 150 Palestinians stormed Kever Yosef in Shechem (Nablus), wreaking havoc as they desecrated the holy site and set it ablaze.

The only reason for the assault was hatred, pure and simple. To vandalize and despoil a holy place is straight out of the playbook of the Taliban and the Islamic State (ISIS). It is an assault on everything held sacred by the Jewish people, an affront to our people’s history and a telling reminder of the kind of enemy that Israel faces.

Needless to say, the incident was not widely reported in the international press, undoubtedly because it defies the narrative of Palestinian victimhood that much of the media has been peddling for far too long.

But this act of savagery underlines the need for Israel to take action. Indeed, it is time for the Jewish state to reassert full control over Kever Yosef, which it ignominiously abandoned 15 years ago this month in the wake of a previous Palestinian attack.

Kever Yosef, of course, is the burial place of one of our greatest Biblical forebears and it is one of Israel’s premier sites of religious, historical and archaeological significance.

The late Dr. Zvi Ilan, one of Israel’s foremost archaeologists, described Kever Yosef 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).

According to sefer Yehoshua (24:32), “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.” The site is also mentioned in the Midrash. Ancient Christian scholars, Arab geographers, medieval Jewish pilgrims, Samaritan historians and even 19th-century British cartographers all concur regarding Joseph’s Tomb and its location.

But ever since Israel abandoned the site under a hail of Palestinian gunfire on October 7, 2000, it has fallen out of the consciousness of too many Jews.

But who can possibly forget that fateful day, when a tempestuous throng of Palestinians assaulted Kever Yosef, and demolished it in a matter of hours.

At the time, in scenes broadcast worldwide, Palestinians armed with sledgehammers put on a memorable display of their notion of religious tolerance as they hacked, chopped, smashed and destroyed one of the most hallowed sites belonging to the Jewish people.

The pristine sounds of Jewish prayer which had once filled the skies over Kever Yosef were replaced by plumes of smoke as the invading Arab throng pillaged the compound, setting alight holy books and other sacred religious objects.

The attack on Kever Yosef 15 years ago was the culmination of a process that had begun several days beforehand, when Palestinian policemen and Fatah terrorists launched a coordinated assault on the Israeli soldiers guarding the location. A 19-year old Druze Israeli border policeman was shot and killed in the attack.

Adding insult to injury, then-Prime Minister Ehud Barak shortly thereafter ordered the army to abandon Kever Yosef in exchange for promises from the Palestinians that they would honestly and truly — with no fingers crossed behind their backs — do their utmost to protect the very site they had just spent several days blasting with automatic weapons.

Not surprisingly, a few hours later, Kever Yosef was overrun and quickly reduced to flaming ruins.

In retrospect, it was and remains abundantly clear that Israel made a grievous strategic mistake in pulling out of Joseph’s Tomb.

The withdrawal marked the first time that Israel had directly retreated under fire in the face of Palestinian violence, sending the other side an unequivocal message of weakness and vacillation.

And coming just days after the start of the September 2000 Palestinian terror campaign, Israel’s capitulation served as an inspirational recruitment tool for the likes of Hamas and Islamic Jihad, which were only too happy to point to the incident as a sign that if you keep hitting the Jews hard enough, they will eventually turn tail and run away.

Currently, Israelis are allowed access to the tomb only once a month in the wee hours of the night and under tight IDF supervision.

This must change. We cannot allow this latest act of sacrilege by the Palestinians to go unpunished. They must learn that when they try to uproot the Jewish presence from Kever Yosef or anywhere else they will pay a price and we will only dig in deeper and strengthen our hold on this, our Holy Land.

Israel should therefore take back Kever Yosef at once. To continue leaving it at the mercy of the Palestinians only serves as a tangible reminder to them that organized violence does indeed have its benefits.

So let’s once again establish Jewish control over the tomb of our Biblical forebear. Doing so will send a message to our enemies that we shall never again retreat under fire, and that we will defend our right to live and worship in this land as we see fit. Let’s muster the courage at last to do what should have been done long ago — take back Kever Yosef, and with it, our dignity too.