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Archaeology in Israel: Joseph’s Tomb

Joseph’s Tomb is located in the heart of Nablus, in the Palestinian Authority-controlled West Bank. Conflicting views exist as to whether or not the patriarch Joseph was buried there; nevertheless, the tomb is recognized as a Jewish shrine, albeit a minor one. According to Jewish tradition, Joseph was buried in the biblical town of Shechem, which is near the present-day city of Nablus. Some archeologists believe that the site is only a few centuries old and may contain the remains of a Muslim sheikh named Yossef.

Following the 1967 War, Israel regained access to the site and a small Jewish seminary was built there in the 1980's. The site was also used as a military outpost, and a number of soldiers were stationed there to protect the seminary students and the site itself. Nablus was returned to the Palestinians in 1995, but the Israelis retained control over the site.

When violent clashes between Israelis and Palestinians began in the West Bank in October 2000, six Palestinians and one Israeli were killed in fighting around the tomb. The Israeli army subsequently agreed to withdraw on October 7 and turn over control of the site to the Palestinian police, who were supposed to guard it. Instead, the Palestinian Police stood by as a mob ransacked the site, burned books and destroyed reading stands; the mob also burned down the army outpost. On that same day, an American-born rabbi, who taught at the seminary, was found slain outside Nablus.

The Mayor of Nablus, Ghassan Shakaa, said that the site would be repaired. Workers were seen fixing the damage, however, they were also painting the top of the dome green - the color of Islam. Workers say that they want to return the shrine to its former appearance before 1967, but news reports indicated the Palestinians were planning to build a mosque on the spot.

For Israelis, the destruction of a Jewish shrine raised serious doubts as to whether the Palestinian Authority would protect religious sites belonging to Jews and Christians and guarantee access to them. Israel guarantees access to all holy places under their control according to 1967 Law for the protection of the holy places.

Violence surrounding access to the Temple Mount stoked by leaders of Hamas and the PA sparked attacks on Joseph's Tomb during October 2015. A crowd of 100 Palestinians descended on the Tomb, throwing molotov cocktails and setting the area ablaze. In a rare display, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas condemned the attack and ordered the damage be repaired.

Sources: Cohen, Richard. "Joseph’s Tomb." Washington Post, (October 10, 2000).
Greenburg, Joel. "Palestinians destroy the Israeli site that was the scene of many clashes." New York Times,  (October 8, 2000).
"Who is buried in embattled shrine: Joseph or Muslim sheikh? CNN, (October 11, 2000).
Rabinovitch, Ari. “Palestinians set fire to Jewish shrine; Israeli soldier stabbed,” Reuters, (October 16, 2015)