IDF Lambastes Jewish Worshippers for Endangering Soldiers in Visit to Joseph's Tomb

More than 200 worshippers entered Nablus without authorization after they could not find seats on buses organized by the army.

The Israel Defense Forces strongly criticized Israeli worshippers who made their way to Joseph's Tomb in Nablus on their own early yesterday morning, saying they had endangered soldiers and themselves and risked a confrontation with the Palestinian Authority.

More than 200 worshippers entered Nablus without authorization after they could not find seats on the buses to the grave that had been organized by the army in coordination with the PA. The buses brought some 1,600 people to the tomb.

Joseph’s Tomb - Reuters - 30.5.2011

The unauthorized worshippers sneaked into the tomb compound and pushed and cursed the Israeli soldiers and border policemen who tried to remove them.

Several soldiers were punched.

The Palestinians reported that some of the worshippers damaged homes and cars in Nablus. Israeli forces arrested several people.

In an exceptional move, the IDF Spokesman's Office released footage of the soldiers removing unauthorized worshippers from the roof of the tomb.

The IDF spokesman, Brig. Gen. Yoav Mordechai, said the worshippers who forced their way into Nablus were irresponsible lawbreakers.

To gain entry into Nablus, the worshippers evaded IDF patrols and made their way to the tomb on foot, crossing through the edge of the nearby Balata refugee camp.

"Just imagine what would have happened if an IDF soldier had been kidnapped or killed while trying to get those worshippers out of Nablus," Mordechai said.

"These worshippers endangered themselves and endangered IDF soldiers. What would have happened if there had been an exchange of fire between us and terrorists or Palestinian policemen and five people were killed? What would we say then?

"This easily could have turned into a kidnapping of a Jew or of soldiers, and then we would have created another national problem," said Mordechai. "This was an irresponsible act, and I don't know any rabbi who supports it."

He added that GOC Central Command, Maj. Gen. Avi Mizrahi, was "furious because he fears for the safety of soldiers and civilians."

He added that the IDF is in favor of continuing and even expanding the visits to Joseph's Tomb. "I hope that what happened [yesterday] doesn't interfere with this," he said.

Over the past two years, Israel and the PA have made strides in improving Jewish access to the tomb, with the IDF chaperoning worshippers to the site.

After Ben-Yosef Livnat was shot dead last month at the tomb by the PA police during an unauthorized entry into Nablus, the PA has an even greater interest in showing that the coordinated visits are proceeding as usual.

Yesterday's organized visit was the largest of its kind in many years.

Last week, Defense Minister Ehud Barak, at the recommendation of the IDF and the Shin Bet security service, canceled a planned visit by right-wing MKs to the tomb.