Israeli Commander Invokes 'Promised Land' in West Bank Op 'Endangering Troops'

'We get to restore the honor to this land and the people of Israel,' regional military commander tells soldiers securing settler-led repair works at vandalized Joseph's Tomb in the West Bank amid rising tensions

Repair works underway in Joseph's Tomb on Wednesday.
Repair works underway in Joseph's Tomb on Wednesday.

Israeli troops were deployed Wednesday to guard repair works on Joseph's Tomb after the holy site was vandalized earlier this week during a wave of Israeli-Palestinian violence that has erupted as Muslims mark the holy month of Ramadan.

At a briefing to the soldiers, the commander of the Israel Defense Forces' Samaria Brigade, Brig. Gen. Roi Zweig, said troops "are working fiercely as did our forefathers, not as thieves at night but as the sons of kings" and so "we get to restore the honor to this land and the people of Israel."

“It was at this location that the Land [of Israel] was promised to Abraham our patriarch.” Zweig said adding a reference to the passage in Genesis in which God says, “Unto thy offspring will I give this land."

The deployment and the restoration work came after the army contacted individuals managing the site and asked them to consider having the repairs performed on Wednesday under IDF protection. After the tomb's management gave its consent, two IDF battalions were sent to Nablus to secure the area.

The army explained that the repairs were being done during daylight hours because many of Nablus’ residents are asleep in the morning as a result of Ramadan and added that the timing had a symbolic meaning that was meant to send a message to Palestinians.

Defense officials lambasted Zweig on Wednesday, saying he had violated instructions from the head of the IDF Central Command, Maj. Gen. Yehuda Fuchs, by permitting live media coverage of the works and risking the troops' lives.

On Tuesday, Maj. Gen. Fuchs held a situation assessment at which plans were developed to send in the soldiers and the repair team. Fuchs issued orders to the troops, including Brig. Gen. Zweig, barring media coverage of the troops entering Nablus and demanded that the Israeli mayors of West Bank settlements and Zweig not disclose the activity until the last of the Israeli soldiers had returned to base.

After the decision was made, Zweig met with Far-right lawmaker Orit Strock and Likud lawmaker Yoav Kirsch as well as Yossi Dagan, the head of the Samaria Regional Council, which serves at the local government for Israeli settlements in the region.

Zweig agreed to have Dagan let members of the media into the tomb compound and also agreed to a request by Strock, Kirsch and Dagan to have a contracting firm called Har Kabir Building and Infrastructure, which is associated with settlement construction, to do the repair work.

“It had been unequivocally decided that the operation would be carried out without the media, without public relations, and the brigade commander simply decided to disregard everyone,” a military source said. Another source who had been involved in preparations for the repairs accused Zweig of “endangering the lives of the troops.”

“A brigade commander who sits with opposition [Knesset] members, right-wing activists and the council heads from the settlements and decides things with them that are contrary to the position of the major general represents the beginning of a collapse,” one defense official said.

One senior defense source wondered why IDF officials were authorizing an operation at Joseph’s Tomb that could cause an escalation during the already-tense Muslim holy month of Ramadan and just prior to Passover.

Joseph’s Tomb was torched and vandalized at the beginning of the week, after which Israeli defense officials informed the Palestinian Authority, which has civil and security control of Nablus, of plans to protect those performing repair work at the tomb.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas had condemned the damage at the tomb, which is the reputed site of the burial of the biblical figure Joseph, and the Israeli army and the Palestinian Authority jointly decided that the IDF would accompany the workers doing the repairs inside the tomb while the Palestinian Authority will repair the outside of it.

The IDF said in response that the forces have secured the civilians as they were entering the compound like the forces would always do. "The press on the scene was invited at the behest of the regional Shomron government and wasn't coordinated with the IDF Spokesperson Unit."

On Wednesday morning, a 34-year-old Palestinian activist was killed in clashes with Israeli forces in Nablus, the Palestinian Health Ministry said, and at least 16 others were wounded, including 10 who were hit by live fire.

This week’s vandalism and arson at the site was widely denounced in Israel. In remarks on the issue, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said, “Palestinian rioters on a spree of destruction simply vandalized a place that is holy for us Jews …. We will not resign ourselves to harm such as this at a site that is holy to us on the eve of Passover, and we will catch the rioters. Of course, we will [also] see to rebuilding what they destroyed, as we always do.”

Following one of this week’s incidents, two Israelis entered Nablus after passing through an unmanned checkpoint in the city on their way to the tomb. The two were then shot and sustained light to moderate wounds. It is suspected that they were shot by Palestinians.

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