1,300 Jewish Worshippers Flock to Joseph's Tomb in West Bank to Mark Death of the Biblical Figure

Israel deploys large security contingent after authorizing the visit, in bid to prevent chaos that ensued six weeks ago.

Some 1,300 Jewish worshippers visited Joseph's Tomb in the West Bank city of Nablus this week to mark the traditional death date of the biblical figure, more than two months after the nephew of a Likud minister was killed at the holy site and six weeks after dozens of Bratslav Hasidim ran into the streets of Nablus and refused to leave.

Israel deployed a large security contingent - some 1,000 soldiers and police officers - after authorizing the late Saturday night visit, in an effort to prevent the chaos that ensued six weeks earlier.

Joseph’s Tomb
Moti Milrod

But a veteran police officer in the Samara and Judea District who was present at the tomb said he wasn't sure security forces would be able to keep up the pace.

"It is not certain that we can provide all these forces from now on every time people want to go to pray at the tomb," he said.

An Israel Defense Forces officer said the Bratslav practice of sneaking into the tomb to pray at night without coordinating the visit with security authorities made it difficult to protect worshippers.

"We have to provide all these troops to protect the lives of Jewish citizens, but [worshippers'] insistance on entering the tomb without any coordination means that troops have to be taken from other areas for this task," the officer said.

In late April, Ben-Yosef Livnat, a Bratslav Hasid in his 20s and a nephew of Culture and Sports Minister Limor Livnat, was killed by Palestinian police gunfire while visiting the tomb during an unauthorized visit.

A senior IDF Central Command officer said the army has previously had to deploy such large numbers of troops as it did this week and will do so in the future as well, due to the government's decision to allow monthly visits to the site.

"This is about freedom of worship," he said. "Not everyone who prays at Joseph's Tomb goes wild like the Bratslavers. They deserve to come and they shouldn't have to suffer."

The army and police began preparing for the visit about two weeks ago. The IDF authorized 21 buses to reach the tomb between midnight Saturday and dawn Sunday.

Several roadblocks were set up to prevent worshippers from getting to the tomb on their own. In addition, 250 Border Police personnel and other police units were deployed along the main road from Nablus to Tapuah Junction, seven kilometers south of the city. Security forces also placed barbed wire across trails in the area.

A few dozen young Bratslav men and teenage girls from nearby settlements were arrested when they tried to enter the area without permission.