Israel halts visits to Jewish shrine in Nablus indefinitely amid security escalation

Visits to Joseph’s Tomb regularly spark clashes, as IDF required to raid Palestinian city to secure visitors; army said holding off on targeted killings of West Bank terror chiefs

Israeli soldiers secure Jewish pilgrims at Joseph's Tomb near the West Bank city of Nablus, July 29, 2019 (IDF)
Israeli soldiers secure Jewish pilgrims at Joseph's Tomb near the West Bank city of Nablus, July 29, 2019 (IDF)

The Israeli security establishment has reportedly decided to indefinitely halt visits to Joseph’s Tomb located in the Palestinian city of Nablus due to the heightened security situation in the West Bank.

The Kan public broadcaster, which broke the story on Thursday, said that the IDF is seeking to limit its activity in the northern West Bank city more broadly in order to allow the Palestinian Authority’s security forces more autonomy to operate there. However, the network cited a senior military official who said that the IDF will continue to enter all Palestinian cities to carry out operations on an as-needed basis.

Joseph’s Tomb is located inside Area A of the West Bank, which is officially under complete PA control, though the Israeli military conducts activities there. The IDF bars Israeli citizens from entering Area A without prior authorization.

Joseph’s Tomb is revered by some as the final resting place of the biblical Joseph. Visits to Joseph’s Tomb by Orthodox Israelis take place on a monthly basis, if not more frequently, and almost always spark violent clashes with Palestinian locals when the IDF enters Nablus beforehand to secure the area for the arrival of the hardline pilgrims.

Nablus, and even more so, neighboring Jenin, have been particular hotspots of violence between the Israeli military and Palestinian gunmen in recent months. The two northern West Bank cities have seen near nightly Israeli raids aimed at arresting individuals whom the military says are Palestinian terror chiefs responsible for a wave of attacks earlier this year that took the lives of 19 people in Israel and the West Bank. The army says many of these fighters are seeking to carry out additional attacks against Israelis.

Over 2,000 Palestinians have been arrested since the beginning of the anti-terror operation in the spring and over 200 Palestinians have been killed in what has become the deadliest period in the West Bank in years.

Palestinians clash with Israeli security forces in the West Bank city of Jenin on September 28, 2022, (Nasser Ishtayeh/Flash90)

Most of the dead have been wanted militants who opened fire, or youths who threw firebombs or stones at soldiers entering their neighborhoods. But several civilians who were not involved in any violence have also died.

The IDF on Thursday said that those recently arrested in raids included a number of students at the Birzeit University near Ramallah, charged with allegedly funneling funds for the Hamas terror group.

Also on Thursday, a 7-year-old Palestinian lost his life in disputed circumstances during an Israeli army operation in the southern West Bank. The PA health ministry said the boy was killed after falling from an unspecified height while running away from IDF soldiers, but an Israeli military spokesman insists that the troops were not responsible for the tragedy.

On Wednesday, four Palestinians were killed and 44 wounded during an Israeli military raid in the northern West Bank town of Jenin. IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi said the operation was successful in neutralizing a concrete terror threat. It was also the deadliest episode since Israel launched its crackdown earlier this year in response to a wave of Palestinian terror attacks that killed 19 people in Israel and the West Bank.

Palestinians clash with Israeli security forces in the West Bank city of Jenin on September 28, 2022. (Nasser Ishtayeh/Flash90)

There have also been several failed shooting attacks targeting Israelis in the past week that have led to the IDF being placed on high alert in the West Bank. Nonetheless, a senior military official told Kan on Thursday that the IDF has taken the decision to not carry out targeted assassinations against Palestinian terror chiefs in the territory, ostensibly concluding that such a drastic step would lead to a further deterioration of the security situation.

At the same time, the IDF plans to continue using attack drones to assist ground troops in their West Bank operations, the military official told the network.

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