December 12, 2003

The Palestinian Authority's refusal to allow worshippers into Joseph's Tomb violates the Oslo Accords

The Palestinian Authority has failed to respect the sanctity of Holy Sites

The Agreement

Under the terms of the Oslo Accords, the Palestinian Authority (PA) is obligated to safeguard holy sites and ensure free access to them.

According to Annex III, Appendix I, Article 32 of the 28 September 1995 Oslo 2 accord:

"2. Both sides shall respect and protect the listed below religious rights of Jews, Christians, Moslems and Samaritans:

a. protection of the Holy Sites;
b. free access to the Holy Sites; and
c. freedom of worship and practice."

In addition to this general obligation, the Oslo 2 accord (Article V(2b) of Annex I) spells out specific arrangements concerning the Tomb of Joseph in Nablus and the Shalom al Yisrael Synagogue in Jericho. These arrangements are designed "to ensure free, unimpeded and secure access to the relevant Jewish holy site."The Violations Preventing Access to Joseph's Tomb - Located in Nablus, the Tomb is the burial site of the Biblical figure Joseph, son of Jacob the patriarch. Shortly after the recent murder of two Israelis in Yitzhar, the Israeli army agreed to allow the victims' friends and families to stay overnight in the Tomb compound to mark the traditional seven-day mourning period. There is nothing in the Oslo Accords which forbids Jews from staying at the site overnight and they have been allowed to do so on numerous previous occasions.

On the night of August 13-14, 1998, Palestinian policemen prevented a number of Jewish worshippers from leaving the Tomb compound, insisting on the removal of all Jewish worshippers who had been sleeping at the site. On August 16, 1998, Palestinian policemen refused to allow a bus load of Jewish worshippers to enter the site to pray, again demanding the removal of all worshippers still inside the Tomb's compound. Since then, the Palestinians have continued to prevent Jewish worshippers from entering the site. Some 30 Jewish worshippers remain trapped inside the compound.

Assaults on Holy Sites by the PA

1) Abraham's Oak Russian Monastery - located in the Palestinian-controlled part of Hebron, the monastery belonged to the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia. On July 5, 1997, Palestinian policemen arrived at the monastery and ordered the monks and nuns to vacate the premises. The PA officers physically removed all of the monks and nuns, and took over the site.

2) Rachel's Tomb - The Tomb, located on the outskirts of Bethlehem, is the burial site of the Biblical matriarch Rachel and is under Israeli control. During the September 1996 riots, the PA orchestrated riots near the Tomb in which a Palestinian mob assaulted the site and hurled rocks and firebombs at it, causing damage to the outer part of the structure. Palestinian policemen on the scene shot and wounded Israeli soldiers guarding the Tomb.

3) Joseph's Tomb - During the September 1996 riots, a Palestinian mob led by Palestinian policemen assaulted the Tomb. Palestinian security agents opened fire on Israeli troops at the site, killing 6 Israeli soldiers. After the Israeli forces temporarily withdrew, the Palestinian mob entered the site and set fire to it. They burned the Jewish prayer books, Bibles and religious articles inside the structure and caused extensive damage.

Palestinian Disparagement of Jewish Holy Sites
* "If the Jews really want peace, they must absolutely forget about having any rights over the Temple Mount or Al-Aksa Mosque... the Western Wall also belongs to Moslems, and was given to the Jews as a place of prayer only because the British asked and the Moslems agreed
out of the goodness of their hearts. The Western Wall is just a fence belonging to a Moslem holy site."

--- Sheikh Ikrama Sabri, the official PA Mufti (senior Muslim cleric) who was appointed to his position by Yasser Arafat, in an interview with the Israeli weekly Makor Rishon, May 22, 1998. [Note: PA Chairman Yasser Arafat has made similar claims in the past. Arafat said, "That is not the Western Wall at all, but a Moslem shrine." (Ma'ariv, 11 October 1996)].

* "Any extremist who enters the Temple Mount compound will not leave it alive."

--- Hatam Abdel Kader, member of the PA's Legislative Council, in an interview with the official PA radio station the Voice of Palestine, when asked about the possibility of Jews praying on the Temple Mount. (Voice of Palestine, 24 May 1998).

* "The archeology of Jerusalem is diverse - excavations in the Old City and the areas surrounding it revealed Umayyad Islamic palaces, Roman ruins, Armenian ruins and others, but nothing Jewish. Outside of what is mentioned/ written in the Old and New Testaments, there is no tangible evidence of any Jewish traces/ remains in the old city of Jerusalem and its immediate vicinity."

--- PA Information Ministry Press Release, 10 December 1997.

* "Be alert and treat Joseph's Tomb and Rachel's Tomb as parcels of Palestinian land which must be liberated, and treat Joseph and Rachel as two people who died, like anyone else."

--- excerpt from an article in the official PA newspaper Al-Hayat Al-Jadeeda, 1 December 1997, concerning Jewish holy sites in Nablus and Bethlehem.

* "The 'Al-Buraq' Wall [the Western Wall] is a part of the Al-Aqsa Mosque. The Jews have no relation to it, whether or not a decision to expropriate it was made."

--- PA Mufti Ikrama Sabri in the Palestinian daily Al-Ayyam, 22 November 1997.

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