'Worshippers visit Joseph's Tomb every night'
After unauthorized visit to Nablus holy site leads to fatal shooting incident, coordinator of entries to Joseph's Tomb says difficulty to obtain permits from IDF prompts worshippers to trespass into vicinity illegally. 'We're allowed in only once a month. They give us 10 buses, but over half a million want to visit'
Almost every night, Jewish worshippers sneak into Palestinian territory, where Joseph's Tomb is located, without obtaining a permit. On Sunday morning such a "routine" visit ended with a fatal shooting that killed Ben-Yosef Livnat, a 24-year-old father-of-four and the nephew of Sports and Culture Minister Limor Livnat.
The entrance into the Tomb vicinity is usually coordinated by Chairman of the Yesod Olam association Haim Reicher, who also arranges entries to other holy sites in the West Bank.
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"Seventeen years we've been fighting to pray at our holy sites," he said, adding that the group – about 19 men in three vehicles – entered Nablus overnight without receiving authorization.
"They entered the place, prayed, kissed the grave, and when they left Palestinian police officers opened fire at them. There was no confrontation prior to the shooting," he noted.
According to Reicher, previous visits that were coordinated in advance ended with no incident.
Prayer at Joseph's Tomb (Archive photo: AP)
The Yesod Olam chairman blamed the IDF for encouraging illegal entries, saying "coordinating with the army is extremely difficult; they don’t talk to us and when we want to organize a visit they want to communicate only through faxes.
"Not that the army is responsible for what happened this morning, but it is one of the factors," he said.
Reicher noted that he has prayed at Joseph's Tomb hundreds of times, and that the place is frequently visited by hundreds of worshippers.
"The problem is that we're allowed to visit only once every month or two. They give us 10 buses, which can carry only 50 people each – but over half a million want to visit. I can safely say that worshippers visit the tomb every night," he added.
IDF Spokesperson's Unit said in response: "The IDF authorizes the entry of Israelis to Joseph's Tomb legally and in full coordination with the relevant elements. Unfortunately, some choose not to coordinate their visit and enter the area illegally despite prior warnings."
Military elements told ynet that entry to Joseph's Tomb is granted once a month on average, and between 6-12 buses full of worshippers are permitted to enter the vicinity during each visit. Over 3,000 worshippers visited the grave since the beginning of the year.
Kobi Nahshoni contributed to this report
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