Four Israelis Indicted for Unauthorized Visits to Joseph's Tomb in West Bank

Move comes month after rampage by settlers at an IDF base in the West Bank; Police say they've been told to get tougher in seeking indictments.

For the first time, Deputy State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan has filed charges against Jews who make unauthorized visits to Joseph's Tomb on the outskirts of Nablus. Four young men have been indicted at the Kfar Sava Magistrate's Court.

The move comes a month after a rampage by settlers at an Israel Defense Forces base in the West Bank. The police say they've been told to get tougher in seeking indictments.

Joseph's Tomb - Nir Kafri - January 2012
Nir Kafri

IDF officers have repeatedly complained about weak law enforcement against infiltrations into the Joseph's Tomb compound by Jews.

They say the courts are forgiving toward young men who enter the tomb and need to be chased out - endangering both themselves and Israeli soldiers.

In April, 25-year-old Ben-Joseph Livnat was shot to death by Palestinian security forces when he entered the Joseph's Tomb compound without authorization. On May 2 and May 30 dozens of youths ran through Nablus toward Joseph's Tomb, ending in their arrest and subsequent release.

In an investigation that followed, the Shomron Brigade commander complained that the army was being forced to deal with the phenomenon "in the absence of the courts."

According to the indictment in Kfar Sava, the four youths entered Joseph's Tomb in February 2008, and when two of them entered again in June their car overturned as they fled soldiers.

Previously, the authorities never pressed the issue unless another charge was involved such as attacking a policeman. Often the legal reasoning was shaky.

For example, a military decree prohibits the entering of West bank Area A, which is under Palestinian civil control. But the decree doesn't apply in Israel, and Israel has no parallel legislation - except in its emergency regulations, which the prosecution prefers not to rely on.

The police, however, say they've now been instructed to seek charges for all violations - this led to the indictments by Nitzan, who is considered tough on right-wing extremists.

"An indictment including violations of security regulations requires ... the state prosecutor's approval. There has been no change in policy on this matter," the Justice Ministry said.

"The Israel Police is responsible for investigating such offenses. On any request to approve an indictment for security violations, the case is examined, and if there is sufficient evidence and justified circumstances, the indictment is approved."

According to attorney Itzhak Bam of the Legal Forum for the Land of Israel, "This is an unreasonable delay for an indictment, contrary to the attorney general's guidelines for expediting the handling of cases. Shai Nitzan's irrelevant politically-contaminated decisions burden the courts with futile cases while violating the suspects' basic rights for quick proceedings."