On Thursday, Israeli soldiers discovered that Joseph's Tomb, a revered prayer site that is believed to be the place where the biblical character Joseph is buried, has been vandalized.
According to Jewish Week, swastikas and other graffiti were spray painted onto the tomb. The damage was found early in the morning before 1,500 Jewish worshippers arrived at the location to pray. To keep these worshippers from seeing what had occurred, the soldiers reportedly covered the damage with white paint prior to their arrival.
The Israeli Army has apparently been coordinating monthly pilgrimages to the tomb for worshippers since 2009. This particular event was planned in coordination with the military ahead of Yom Kippur (the holiest day on the Jewish calendar). According to an army spokesperson:
"This morning, soldiers discovered swastikas painted on the walls of the building that contains the tomb. The soldiers cleaned the premises and a complaint was sent to the Palestinian Authority."
Danny Dayan, who is the chairman of the Yesha Council which represents West Bank settlers, railed against the vandalism, calling it "shocking."
Dayan was particularly surprised, as the defacing took place just days before Yom Kippur.
Gershon Mesika, who has been heavily involved in restoring the site and who is the head of the Samaria regional council, responded to the incident by saying that "only barbarians would be able to commit such terrible acts." He continued, saying, "People who can pathologically desecrate such a holy site are not worthy of being called human beings."
AFP provides some history, which showcases the divisiveness that exists surrounding the religious site:
The tomb is a place of pilgrimage for religious Jews, who believe it to be the final resting place of the biblical figure Joseph. Muslims believe that an Islamic cleric, Sheikh Yussef (Joseph) Dawiqat, was buried there two centuries ago.
Under the 1993 Oslo Accords, the site was to remain under Israeli control. But the Israeli army evacuated the premises in October 2000 shortly after the start of the second intifada, or uprising, and it was immediately destroyed and burnt by the Palestinians.
The restoration of the tomb was completed recently, and following improved security cooperation with the Palestinian Authority, the army allows Jewish worshippers to make monthly nocturnal pilgrimages to the site.
This isn't the first time the tomb has been vandalized over the past decade. Interestingly, this most recent act of aggression comes just one day after a mosque was torched in Northern Israel, causing one to wonder if this act is retaliatory.
(H/T: The Jewish Week)