Friday, October 6, 2000





Joseph's amazingly bottomless tomb


By Zvi Bar'el



"You've got permission to vacate Joseph's Tomb, if you've reached

the conclusion that you need to in order to save the soldiers' lives,"

then defense minister Yitzhak Mordechai declared four years ago. In

September 1996, Mordechai communicated his decision to IDF

Central Commander Uzi Dayan. The IDF officer subsequently

decided that the situation didn't justify a clear-out operation at

Joseph's Tomb. The result of Dayan's decision was that six IDF

soldiers were killed, and many others were wounded - and all of the

casualties came from the team sent in from the "Heruv" unit to rescue

trapped soldiers.At the time, Haredi MK Moshe Gafni was quoted as

saying that "I don't think that in the long term we need to continue as

an enclave surrounded by an Arab mass at Joseph's Tomb. We

should consider the option of not remaining in such enclaves." Gafni

asked only that Jews not vacate Joseph's Tomb too soon, so as to

"not create a feeling of surrendering to terror."


Gafni's proposal went unanswered. Eight months later, in April 1997,

Joseph's Tomb was attacked again. IDF officers deliberated about

the option of using a tank convoy or combat helicopters to rebuff the

attack. Worried about Palestinian sniper fire, they decided against

using helicopters. Fortunately, Palestinian security forces managed to

restrain enraged masses; so the IDF was spared the need to deploy a

major military operation tantamount to the re-conquest of Nablus.


The four years that have gone by since then must count as a stretch of

time sufficiently ample to defuse allegations that a withdrawal from

Joseph's Tomb is a concession to Netanyahu-era terror.


It's also worth recalling that the yeshiva students who gathered at

Joseph's Tomb under a special residence entitlement written into the

Oslo II agreement are right-wing extremists. Restraining orders were

issued against some of them in the past, in response to acts of

incitement they perpetrated. Two of them jeered the Samaria district

IDF commander, calling him a traitor and a racist. The yeshiva's head,

Rabbi Yitzhak Ginsberg, also was subjected to a restraining writ -

among other reasons, the order was issued because the rabbi

declared that "thou shall not murder" doesn't protect non-Jews.


The large number of casualties at Joseph's Tomb, and the objective

military assessment that the site is indefensible, might not suffice to

dissuade opponents of withdrawal from the Nablus area Jewish



They hold that the sanctity of the site justifies a continued Jewish

presence there, whatever the cost. But their contention can be

challenged on religious-historic grounds. There's another Joseph's

Tomb in the Cave of Patriarchs, near the burial places of Abraham,

Isaac, Jacob and their wives. Joseph doesn't need another spare,

amazingly bottomless tomb in Nablus.


The Netzarim settlement, alas, isn't buttressed by claims about Jewish

sanctity. Located between northern and southern ends of the Gaza

Strip, the settlement is exceptionally difficult to defend. Were a final

status agreement with the Palestinians to be in effect now, Netzarim

wouldn't be on the map. It tops a short list of Jewish settlements

slated for removal once an agreement is signed. It appears that the

settlement's purpose is to serve as negotiation gambit - it is to be

offered for removal so that larger, stronger Jewish settlements will

remain in place.


Yet prior to that day when Netzarim plays its designated role, the

defense of the small Jewish settlement continues to require the

deployment of a large number of IDF troops. Sometimes the number

of soldiers out-number the settlement's vacant homes by a factor of

ten to one. The Netzarim settlers are a constant target of terror

attempts. Netzarim's women and children travel in extensively

guarded convoys. The much-fortified entrance route to the settlement

resembles that of a nuclear facility.


In security terms, Netzarim's importance is negligible. In fact, its

security impact is negative - it is a constant site of violent friction

between IDF soldiers and Palestinian security forces. During the past

week, the IDF fought at Netzarim as though the settlement were the

legendary Tel Hai of yore, as though it were a stronghold whose fate

is crucial to the nation's morale.


Netzarim and Joseph's Tomb have turned into symbols of the State of

Israel's endurance and steadfast will. But their "prestige" remains valid

so long as a peace agreement isn't signed. The moment an agreement

is forged, the enclaves will be ripped from the map the way a price

tag is taken off a sold product. But there's a catch: by remaining on

the ground, pending the realization of a peace agreement, they're

liable to help obstruct efforts to attain the elusive peace pact



copyright 2000 Ha'aretz. All Rights Reserved




The pessimists were

right/By Yoel Marcus


The lessons of the

rioting/By Ze'ev Schiff


Without live bullets, without

dead bodies/By Nehemia



The NIS 4 billion

question/By Nehemia Strasler




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