This past week during Passover, Palestinians rioted and assaulted several Jews on Jerusalem’s Temple Mount, Judaism’s most sacred site.

As we highlighted in an earlier post, the mere sight of Jews at their holiest place was seen by Muslims there as an affront. Two Jewish men who dared to pray were beaten up. Other Jewish visitors were harassed with verbal taunts and Israeli police and border patrol units also came under attack.

But the Temple Mount wasn’t the only place where Muslims rioted against Jewish worshippers this Passover.

On April 27, Jews making a pilgrimage to Joseph’s Tomb, located near the biblical city of Shechem, were also set upon by Muslim rioters.

Joseph's Tomb | 2011 | credit: YouTube screenshot

Joseph’s Tomb | 2011 | credit: YouTube screenshot

Judah Ari Gross reports on the incident for The Times of Israel:

Palestinian residents of Nablus threw rocks and burning tires at IDF soldiers as they escorted hundreds of visitors to a Jewish holy site in the West Bank city overnight Wednesday-Thursday.

The IDF was providing protection for 26 buses of religious Jews who came to Nablus to see Joseph’s tomb, the purported site of the Jewish patriarch’s burial. During the visit, the escorting force came under attack from local Palestinians…”

Attacks on Jews who come to pray at Joseph’s Tomb are common.

In early April another convoy of Jewish pilgrims came under attack.

A similar riot also broke out back in February. Then too, in an effort to prevent the pilgrimage, Nablus residents attacked police as they escorted devout Jews to the site.

IDF Troops scuffle with Palestinian rioters, Feb 2016

To “minimize clashes with local residents”, visits to the holy site are made only once a month during the dead of night, and under heavy armed guard. It’s required that all trips be coordinated with the Israel Defense Forces.

Basically, Jews can’t just up and decide to go visit this sacred place during normal daytime hours, like they would any other major historical and religious attraction anywhere else in the world.

Worshipping there requires a major military operation. Devout Jews have to sneak in during the middle of night in armored vehicles, accompanied by soldiers in riot gear. The hope is that the Palestinians who live there will be asleep, won’t know they’re coming, and so won’t come after them with rocks, butcher knives, and firebombs.

It wasn’t supposed to be that way.

Joseph’s Tomb, just east of Nablus, is located in Area A—in roughly the 20% of Judea and Samaria/the West Bank where, under the 1995 Oslo II Accord, the Palestinian Authority (PA) has full security and civilian jurisdiction.

The Accord in fact designated Joseph’s Tomb as a site that could remain under Israeli control. But in a move that was only meant to be temporary, Israel pulled out of the area in early October 2000, after an IDF unit stationed there came under heavy fire from Palestinian gunmen at the start of the second intifada.

Then PM Ehud Barak’s decision to leave the outpost was widely criticized. It’s considered the first time that Israel withdrew its security forces and relinquished territory as a direct result of Palestinian violence.

Here’s a video that shows what happened to the site when the Israeli army left the premises 16 years ago. The footage depicts a Palestinian mob destroying the tomb with pick axes, setting it on fire, and jubilantly planting Palestinian flags on the cement walls of the structure:

Once Israel evacuated the place, the PA pledged to “maintain and protect” the site and to allow Jewish worshippers the “right to enter and pass through Area A unmolested”, as required under the Oslo interim agreement.

In practice the PA has done little to live up to its obligations.

On some occasions PA officials have behaved appallingly, and have even aggravated the violence.

During the October 1, 2000 gun battle between Israeli and PA security forces described above, PA security personnel barred Israeli medics from reaching a wounded 19-year-old Druze border policeman, Cpl. Madhat Yusuf. He ended up bleeding to death inside the tomb compound.

Back in April 2011, a group of Breslov Hassidim who tried to visit the site on their own without prior coordination with the IDF were fired upon by a PA policeman. Ben-Yosef Livnat, the nephew of former Israeli government Minister Limor Livnat, was murdered during the incident and several others were injured.

Ben Yosef Livnat

Jewish visitors were again beaten up by PA security forces last October, when a group of some 30 Israelis tried to enter the site alone, presumably to assess the damage done to the structure after it was again torched by hundreds of Palestinian rioters.

Torching and clashes, Oct 2015, Joseph's Tomb

Palestinians set fire to Joseph's Tomb | October 2015 | credit: screenshot

Palestinians set fire to Joseph’s Tomb | October 2015 | credit: screenshot

Five members of the group were reportedly assaulted by PA personnel before they were handed over to Israeli authorities.

Bottom line: Joseph’s Tomb is isolated geographically in the heart of Palestinian Authority-controlled territory. But it’s considered one of the five holiest sites in Judaism, and so for over a decade devout Jews have risked life and limb to visit the place. There’ll never be an Israeli-Palestinian peace until Jews can go and pray without needing armed security details to accompany them.

Praying at Joseph Tomb 2010

Here’s a short video about the religious and historical significance of Joseph’s Tomb, and the ongoing battle for Jewish prayer rights there:

Featured Image: Jews pray at Joseph’s Tomb, December 28, 2010 (Credit: Kobi Gideon/Flash90)

Miriam F. Elman is an associate professor of political science at the Maxwell School of Citizenship & Public Affairs, Syracuse University. She is the editor of five books and the author of over 60 journal articles, book chapters, and government reports on topics related to international and national security, religion and politics, the Middle East, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. She also frequently speaks and writes on the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) anti-Israel movement. Follow her on Twitter @MiriamElman