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Bloom: Pray for a peaceful resolution in dispute over holy sites in Israel

"The Israelis are planning to take over our holy sites" goes the rallying cry of rampaging Palestinians who use knives and axes to attack any Jewish person who has the misfortune to cross their path.

This time the excuse for killing Jews is about protecting Muslim holy sites -- in this case, the third most sacred site in Islam, the Al Aksa Mosque atop the ancient foundation of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem.

Of course the Israeli government has reaffirmed its commitment to maintain the status quo of equal access for all religions to their holy sites.

Yet little attention, outside of the Jewish media, has been given to the fact that Palestinians attacked one of Judaism's most sacred holy sites -- the tomb of the biblical patriarch Joseph. These terrorists set the tomb on fire and, according to press reports, the Palestinian Authority police eventually put out the flames just before the Israeli Army arrived.

So what is this tomb of Joseph all about?

We read in Genesis about Joseph, the favorite son of Jacob who was abducted by his envious brothers, sold into slavery, and then came, because of his unique skills as an interpreter of dreams, to the attention of Pharaoh, who engaged him as his royal advisor.

Joseph brings his entire clan down to Egypt and reconciles with them. As vizier of all Egypt, he provides a sanctuary for his Hebrew kinsmen. Centuries later, as the Israelites left Egypt, Moses fulfilled the longstanding promise to remove his remains and return them to their homeland. Jospeh was eventually buried in a tomb outside the ancient town of Schechem which is east of the modern day Palestinian city of Nablus inside the West Bank territories.

"The bones of Joseph, which the Children of Israel brought up out of Egypt, were buried in Shechem in a parcel of land Jacob bought from the sons of Hamor, father of Shechem, for a hundred pieces of silver," according to Joshua 24:32.

Israeli defense forces were responsible for the security and access to the tomb after the 1967 war, but when the Oslo Accords were signed in 1992, the Palestinian Authority took over the tomb's security.

Outbreaks of Palestinian violence led to the desecration of the site several times over the last fifteen years. Sadly, the current arrangement is that the Israel Defense Forces bring Jewish worshippers once a month and only at night so as to avoid confrontations and potential Arab attacks.

Whatever happened to providing equal access for Jewish visitors to their holy sites as Palestinians rightly expect from the Israeli government for their sacred places for study, worship and meditation?

This site is supposed to be holy for pilgrims from Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Yet it is plagued by violence from Palestinians more than the other famous holy sites in Israel such as the Western Wall, the Tomb of the biblical matriarch Rachel, along the road to Bethlehem, and the Cave of Machpelah in Hebron where, according to tradition, Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Rebecca and Jacob are buried. Perhaps the tomb of Joseph is subject to so many outbreaks of hatred and terror because its location is geographically isolated inside the West Bank territories.

Israelis and Palestinians must resolve these issues of respect for and access to all holy sites. Simply put, there must be equal access for all the major faiths.

Yet, the Palestinians and their supporters at the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization, which represents the UN's arm of identifying and protecting world heritage sites, had a different idea in mind.

UNESCO's executive board and its Palestinian allies recently attempted to ram through a vote to declare the Western Wall in the Old City of Jerusalem -- Judaism's holiest site -- a Muslim holy site. Sanity prevailed and the resolution was defeated last week. I thought the UN was supposed to work for peace?

This is about leadership and communication.

Holy religious siites should not be held hostage as leverage in larger political disputes.

We see what ISIS does with holy places of religious significance in Iraq and Syria.

They blow them up.

In the Torah, Joseph made peace with his estranged brothers.

Let us pray that the current leadership can do the same in Israel and the Palestinian territories for pilgrims and worshippers today and tomorrow.

Columnist Rabbi Brad L. Bloom is the rabbi at Congregation Beth Yam on Hilton Head Island. He can be reached at 843-689-2178. Read his blog at www.fusion613.blogspot.com and follow him at twitter.com/rabbibloom.

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