The West Bank shrine believed by some to be the tomb of the biblical Joseph, which has been vandalized twice in the past few days by Palestinians amid rising tensions with Israel, was restored and renovated Wednesday morning in a rare daytime operation.
Several construction teams arrived at the Nablus site, accompanied by military forces from the Samaria Brigade. It was coordinated in advance with the Civil Administration, which is overseeing the operation.
As they entered the compound, rocks were thrown toward the Israeli vehicles. Similar visits to renovate the site in 2010 and 2015 were conducted under the cover of darkness, so as to avoid unnecessary clashes with Palestinians in the area.
The vandalism at the tomb came amid heightened tensions inside and outside the Green Line in recent weeks.
Overnight Saturday, some 100 Palestinians broke into the site, rioted, set it ablaze and smashed objects inside before they were dispersed by Palestinian security forces and Israel Defense Forces, the military said.
A day later, Palestinians entered the site again, causing more damage.
In a separate incident, two Israeli Jews were shot and wounded while trying to reach the tomb without coordinating beforehand with the military.
Jewish pilgrims are usually only allowed to visit the tomb once a month under heavy security During these visits, Palestinians routinely throw rocks at the troops, and sometimes attack them with Molotov cocktails and gunfire.
The area has seen recent clashes between Palestinian gunmen and IDF soldiers, who have been entering the nearby Balata refugee camp amid counterterror operations in the wake of a number of deadly terror attacks.
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett led the condemnation on Sunday of the vandalism of Joseph’s Tomb, saying he was appalled by the damage.
“We will not abide such an assault on a place that is holy to us — on the eve of Passover — and we will get to the rioters,” he said. “And of course we will make sure to rebuild what they destroyed, as we always do.”
Defense Minister Benny Gantz said the vandalism was a “grave event,” and said he had sent a “strong message” to the Palestinian Authority about the attack on the shrine.
The Haaretz news outlet reported that IDF snipers had positioned themselves on nearby rooftops as the teams made their way to the site.
In a separate incident, six Palestinians were reportedly injured during clashes with the Israeli military in the village of Beita, near Nablus, as part of an extensive military arrest operation in the West Bank. Forces also entered the Palestinian cities of Jenin, Tulkarm, Nablus and the villages of Urif, Kabatia and Jaba’, the military said.
Wednesday’s daytime operation in Joseph’s Tomb was the first of its kind since former prime minister Ehud Barak handed over control of the site in 2000 to the Palestinian police, which pledged to keep the shrine’s integrity and prevent any damage to it.
Upon entering the vandalized site, the teams witnessed for the first time the scope of the damage caused on consecutive nights of vandalism. Areas of the tomb were charred and the headstone was heavily damaged.
Besides restoring the damaged sections of the tomb, the teams were repainting the site’s charred walls, replacing the windows in the complex, and installing new plumbing and electricity systems.
Yossi Dagan, head of the Samaria Regional Council, who oversaw the operation, said the Israeli military should reclaim control over the site to protect it.
“We arrived here early this morning and are working to restore the honor of Joseph the Righteous and of the people of Israel. The IDF and Israeli security forces have my full support and appreciation… We are here to restore and promise that we will never leave or disperse. I demand that the government reinstate military presence at the site,” he said.