By MATTHEW WAGNER
Visitors to Joseph's Tomb in Nablus Wednesday evening were dismayed to see swastikas and other anti-Semitic vandalism at the holy site.
"We saw a drawing of a Star of David with a boot stamping on it on one wall," said David Ha'ivri, a spokesman for Samaria Regional Council chairman Gershon Masika, who was one of the visitors.
"Putting your foot on something is the ultimate insult in the Arab world," added Ha'ivri. "It is sad that is the way they treat a holy site. But nobody was particularly surprised."
Ha'ivri said that in the past year, since Masika was elected head of the regional council, there had been regular monthly visits to the tomb coinciding with the new Jewish month.
"Every time, we bring white paint to cover up the graffiti," said Ha'ivri.
The tomb - which, according to the Oslo Accords, is under Israeli control - is surrounded by territory controlled by the Palestinian Authority.
In October 2000, at the start of the second intifada, Palestinians attacked a small Border Police contingent stationed next to the gravesite. Yusuf Madhat, one of the policemen, was killed after the IDF relied on the PA to evacuate Madhat, in keeping with the Oslo Accords.
A yeshiva called Od Yosef Hai (Joseph is Still Alive) was ransacked, and holy books were burned. Hillel Lieberman, a yeshiva student who tried to reach the site on Rosh Hashana by foot, was also killed. The yeshiva was then moved to the neighboring settlement of Yitzhar.
Until recently visits to the tomb were made clandestinely by Breslav Hassidim, against IDF orders. Now, the Yitzhar-based organization Shechem Ehad (shoulder to shoulder) organizes monthly visits to the tomb.
On Wednesday night, over 500 visitors were transported into the area in bullet-proof vehicles and under heavy IDF protection.
Nathan J. Diament, director of public policy at the Orthodox Union, issued a statement decrying the vandalism and calling on "all people of good will to join us in condemning such acts of desecration of holy sites."
"We also call upon all people of good will, especially those in positions of responsibility in the American, Israeli and other governments who, in their sincere desire to pursue a peaceful resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, consider plans which would have Israel relinquish sovereignty over other Jewish holy sites - most notably in Jerusalem - to view this as not the first, but another warning that this is what happens when such holy sites are not secured by Israel," the statement said.