Palestinian Youth Set Fire to Joseph's Tomb in Nablus

Hundreds gathered and threw Molotov cocktails at the compound; Abbas denounces attack, says Palestinian Authority will pay for reconstruction.

Joseph's Tomb in Nablus ablaze in an attack at the site in 2015.
Joseph's Tomb in Nablus ablaze in an attack at the site in 2015. Screen grab

Hundreds of Palestinian youth set fire with molotov cocktails to parts of the Joseph's Tomb complex in Nablus Friday morning.

Hundreds of young Palestinians gathered and threw Molotov cocktails at the compound. When some of them broke in and began throwing flammables inside the compound, Palestinian security forces took control of the situation. When they arrived, they fired into the air and removed the rioters from the site. A team of local firemen put out the flames.

شبان يحرقون قبر يوسف في مدينة #نابلس ويرفعون العلم الفلسطيني فوقه

Posted by ‎نابلس البلدة القديمة‎ on Thursday, 15 October 2015

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas denounced the attack and established an investigative committee to probe the incident. The attack was an irresponsible act which doesn't reflect Abbas' principles and views, or the principles of Islam, his office said in a statement. Abbas also said that the Palestinian Authority will be responsible for reconstructing the compound and will cover the expenses.  

The IDF said that it "considers this event severely, will work to locate and arrest the perpetrators, and strongly condemns any attacks on holy sites."

The military will rebuild the compound, some reports say.

Right wing Israelis are outraged. "The torching of Jewish holy sites is yet another low," said Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel. "This is the result of Palestinian incitement. While the Palestinians are lying through their teeth about the status quo on Temple Mount as a means to change it, they themselves are burning and desecrating the holy places of Israel."

"That is unforgivable," Ariel said.

Avigdor Lieberman, chairman of Yisrael Beiteinu, said "setting fire to the tomb proves that the Palestinian Authority's behavior is no different than ISIS: Young Palestinians took machetes and knives to kill Jews, and now they're burning holy places and historical heritage sites, just as members of ISIS do."

MK Moti Yogev (HaBayit HaYehudi) added "whoever burns Joseph's Tomb proves that the place is not his. People who throw explosives and rocks, and play soccer around Al-Aqsa prove that the place isn't sacred to them. All these places will return to our hands [because they are sacred to us]."

The tomb, identified as the resting place of the Biblical Joseph, sits on the slope of Mount Gerizim in Nablus and near the Balata refugee camp.

Joseph's Tomb was not included in the grave list of holy sites which was transferred to the Palestinians as a result of the second Oslo agreement signed in 1995. When the IDF pulled out of Nablus that same year as a result of the agreement, Od Yosef Hai, a yeshiva founded in the 1980s, it's name a Biblical reference, became a Jewish and Israeli enclave in the area. But in 2000, because of the outbreak of the second intifada, Israel completely withdrew from the grave, as it was too difficult to defend. 

In recent years, every month at night, worshippers would gather at Joseph's Tomb to pray. The visits were coordinated with the military forces and Palestinian security.

There were many conflicts around the grave in recent months due to uncoordinated visits. In 2011, Ben-Yosef Livnat was killed and three of his friends were wounded by a Palestinian policeman after visiting the area without clearing it with the IDF. 

**

The situation at Joseph's Tomb comes on the heels of Abbas' phone conversation with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry Thursday, in which Abbas promised to calm the situation in the West Bank.

And this promise has already been put to the test. In addition to youth burning Joseph's Tomb early Friday morning, Hamas called for rallies across the West Bank to express outrage after Juma'a, Friday prayers. Officials also expect demonstrations in Gaza along the border with Israel to take place around the same time.

Hamas has refrained from direct involvement in terms of organization demonstrations in the West Bank. It is yet unknown how the Palestinian security forces plan to deal with the Hamas protests. 

Sources close to the Palestinian president told Haaretz that his conversation with Kerry also dealt with Abbas' claims that Israel executed the 13-year-old responsible for a terrorist attack in the East Jerusalem settlement of Pisgat Ze'ev, Ahmed Mansara. After Israel released photos of Mansara eating hospital food at Hadassah Ein Karem in West Jerusalem, Abbas argued that the fact that Mansara didn’t die doesn’t absolve Israel of its action. Abbas explained that the purpose of his speech was to criticize the brutality of Israeli police who will shoot and kill and Palestinian subject, even if he was already been disabled and the threat removed.

Also during the conversation with Kerry, Abbas asked that actions be taken against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his government, to stop the provocation and aggression that settlers pose to Palestinians, especially visits to Al-Aqsa mosque, he explained.

Despite the relative calm over the past 24 hours, police forces decided to limit Al-Aqsa mosque parishioners on Friday to men over the age of 40 and women.