Prime Minister Naftali Bennett joined the condemnation on Sunday of the overnight arson and vandalism of Joseph’s Tomb near the West Bank city of Nablus, saying he was appalled by the images of the damage to the shrine.
“During the night Palestinians destroyed Joseph’s Tomb. Dozens of Palestinian rioters in a campaign of destruction simply violated a holy place for us, the Jews,” Bennett said at the start of the cabinet meeting.
“They broke the tombstone on the grave, set fire to rooms in the compound — I saw the pictures and was shocked,” he said.
“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.”
Around 100 Palestinians broke into the site overnight, rioted and set it ablaze, before they were dispersed by Palestinian security forces and smashed objects inside, Israel Defense Forces spokesman Brig. Gen. Ran Kochav said.
Images on social media showed parts of the tomb inside the shrine smashed and charred.
The rioting came amid clashes between Palestinian gunmen and IDF soldiers in the nearby Balata refugee camp in the Jenin area.
The IDF confirmed that special forces — including troops from the elite Shayetet 13 navy unit — carried out searches for weapons in the area, and arrested eight Palestinians suspected of terror activity.
Footage showed dozens of Palestinians entering the site and smashing objects inside. The tomb is venerated by Jews, Christians and Muslims, and has often been a flashpoint for violence.
Some Jews believe the biblical Joseph is buried in the tomb, while Muslims say a sheikh is buried there. The army escorts Jewish worshippers to the site several times a year, in coordination with Palestinian security forces.
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Earlier, 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 vandalism of Joseph’s Tomb is a grave event and a serious violation of freedom of worship in one of the holiest places for every Jew. It violates the feelings of the entire Jewish nation, especially when it occurs during the Muslim holy month,” Gantz said in a statement, which he released in Hebrew, Arabic and English.
Gantz said that Israel will work quickly to “ensure that the site is refurbished and quickly returned to its original condition.”
The minister added that “all necessary measures” will be taken to prevent a repeat of such an attack.
Gantz concluded by saying that he told the Palestinian Authority that it must increase security and take action against the rioters.
“This morning, I delivered a strong message to the Palestinian Authority, demanding the immediate reinforcement of their officials on-site and decisive action against rioters and terrorists that harm stability and security in holy places,” Gantz said.
Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, in a statement, deplored the attack while urging calm.
“Attacking holy sites is attacking the heart of a people. The Palestinians who laid waste to Joseph’s Tomb seek to sow destruction and devastation during a holy festival. This is serious damage not only to the tomb itself, but to the deeply-held feelings of the Jewish people,” Lapid tweeted.
“We will bring the perpetrators to justice and repair Joseph’s Tomb. I call on everyone to promote calm and quiet.”
Joseph’s Tomb is located inside Area A of the West Bank, which is officially under complete Palestinian Authority control, though the Israeli military conducts activities there. The IDF bars Israeli citizens from entering Area A without prior authorization.
Jewish pilgrims are usually only allowed to visit the tomb once a month under heavy armed guard. During these visits, Palestinians routinely throw rocks at the troops, and sometimes attack them with Molotov cocktails and gunfire.
The shrine has also been torched in the past.
The overnight attack came during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan — often a period of high tension in Israel and the West Bank.
Israel has seen four deadly terror attacks in recent weeks and has ramped up security measures in response, as well as carrying out a number of raids in the West Bank.