Overnight, Joseph's Tomb in Shechem (Nablus) was set on fire by a mob of Arabs.
Whether or not it is historically the real tomb of Joseph, it is certainly a major Jewish shrine.
It is the most important Jewish holy place under Palestinian rule. There are some important synagogues and sites but none associated with a Biblical figure that I am aware of.
Under every agreement between Jews and Arabs, holy places were to be protected and free access allowed. Lists of holy sites for all religions were compiled by the UN. But Jewish holy sites under Arab rule have never been protected by Arabs; Jordan destroyed dozens of synagogues and did not allow Jews to enter the Old City. Not Israelis - Jews.
Joseph's Tomb is the exception that proves the rule. It is the only Jewish shrine that Israeli Jews have been allowed to access under Arab rule, but that access was severely restricted - only once a month, in the middle of the night, with the IDF protecting the worshipers from Arabs that riot every single time.
If the world community had its way and Israel would withdraw to the Green Line, the situation at other Jewish holy sites like Rachel's Tomb and the Tomb of the Patriarchs would be like that has been at Joseph's Tomb at best. Access would be very limited, accompanied by riots at the very idea of Jews entering "Muslim holy sites."
Yes, by a massive coincidence, every Jewish holy site is also an Muslim holy site. It just so happens that Mohammed chose the Western wall of the Jewish Temple to tether his flying donkey, thereby superseding Jewish rights. The Cave of the Patriarchs was converted to the Ibrahimi Mosque. Rachel's Tomb very recently became a venerable old Muslim mosque called the Bilal Bin Rabbah mosque. Samuel's Tomb is also claimed by Muslims as their own.
Joseph's Tomb is no different. While Muslims generally associated it with the biblical Joseph, more recently mny have claimed that it is the tomb of an altogether different person, a sheikh coincidentally named Yusuf.
Yet if it was really a Muslim holy site, why are Muslims setting it on fire?
A similar situation happened several months ago, when Muslims set fire on the southern wall of the Temple Mount, in an attempt to draw Israeli forces there. Besides that, they have used the Al Aqsa Mosque as a weapons depot, they practice soccer and volleyball and parkour on the supposedly sacred grounds (I've never seen them do that at the Kaaba in Mecca.)
If these sites were really holy, they would be venerated, not desecrated.
Either they are not really holy sites, or the idea of burning a Jewish holy place is far more important than the holiness they supposedly have for Muslims.
The overnight fire has, as of this writing, received next to no international coverage. Suspected arson of Muslim and Christian holy sites by Jews is reported widely and is used as evidence that all Jews or "settlers" are bigots, but this fire that was openly set by a crowd of dozens of men will not be used to demonize all Arabs - even though the number of Arabs who support free Jewish access to their holy sites is far lower than the corresponding number of Jews supporting Muslim access to their own holy places. Equal rights to Jews is simply not a remote possibility for Palestinians.
Lately, the State Department has been talking about the importance of maintaining the "status quo" at religious sites. Yet no one has ever heard anyone accuse Arabs of violating the status quo. Burning a religious site and heavily damaging it is a very serious violation of the status quo. While I expect that the State Department will perfunctorily condemn this act, it will not use that magic phrase when discussing this incident.
From early accounts of the fire, the PA put it out and is not suspected of setting it. However, clearly there was little protection of the building. Nevertheless, when mainstream media report this incident on page 17, they will take pains to say that this was only an angry crowd of youths, but not representative of Palestinians in general. Jews who are suspected of violent acts, on the other hand, are generalized to all Israelis or- more often- "settlers" even if they don't live across the Green Line.
Moreover, Arabs love to claim that Jews routinely desecrate holy places by merely walking around. Will any media accurately report this as a desecration?
Similarly, Arabs say that they are convinced that Jews want to destroy the Al Aqsa Mosque, even though they could do it whenever they want. But this is not the first time that Joseph's Tomb has been set on fire in reality. The psychological projection is perfect, but no one reports it.
Finally, there will be inevitably calls from supposedly liberal Westerners and left-wing Israelis to ban Jews from Joseph's Tomb altogether, just as they are now calling on Jews to stop visiting the Temple Mount. The thinking is that if Muslims act so extremely as to set fires or stab people using their bogus claims on their bogus holy sites as their excuses, then it is better to remove the excuse. In these cases, freedom of religion for Jews can always be vetoed by Arab violence and threats.
Joseph's Tomb teaches a lot about the conflict. It is too bad that most people refuse to learn.
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