Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Getting buried at Joseph's Tomb

Joseph's Tomb. Again, Joseph's Tomb. A cursed place which already caused so much suffering, which already claimed the lives of so many Israelis and Palestinians. A place which, like a magnet, attracts all who dream of establishing an Israeli settlement foothold at the heart of the Palestinian city of Nablus.

One more stupid and unnecessary death. Ben Yosef Livnat, aka "Benyo" - a settler, a Breslov Hasid, a favorite nephew of the Minister of Culture in the government of Israel. A person who, as we heard in recent days, got married and brought four children into the world without having managed to grow up himself. And who now will never grow up.

By chance. journalist Akiva Novick just a few days ago accompanied Ben Yosef Livnat and his friends on a very adventurous trip to the Tomb of Joseph, in what turned out to be the last week in the life of this young man. Today Novick published on the pages of "Yediot Ahronot" a vivid description and full details of this event: "In the video film I took, he sings and dances inside the cave with a shining and a preternatural burst of enthusiasm and a broad smile on his face", "He and his friends encircled the tombstone in a fast dance of ecstasy " , "Traveling the night streets of Nablus we reached the speed of 140 kilomtres per hour. When Rabbi Berland comes along, they sometimes reach as high as 180 km / h", "Occupants of the car began to sing 'Though you walk in the heart of the flame, you would not burn, the flame would not touch you'" When I asked: 'Do you know that the IDF goes here only in armoured convoys?' they answered with full confidence 'The army has flak jackets, we have our prayers and the grace of our ancestors'." Did the Rabbis not teach them that very important rule of Judaism: Never to rely on a miracle happening?

Soldiers and checkpoint. and martyrs

"They behaved suspiciously. They tried to break through the checkpoint by force. We shouted at them to stop and they did not stop, we fired in the air and they did not stop. We had no choice but shoot at the car which was charging at us."

These arguments and excuses sound a bit familiar. When have we heard them before? More than once, in fact.

When the soldiers at the checkpoint were Israeli and the car passenger which they shot to death had been a Palestinian, no one in the government or the military high command thought of casting doubt about the soldiers' version of what happened. Certainly not Limor Livnat , Minister of Culture, loving aunt of Benyo who danced at Joseph's Tomb. She never doubted the word of the soldiers who were placed by the state of Israel in roadblocks on all roads, from Hebron in the south to Jenin in the north. When they had shot, certainly it was necessary, and when somebody was killed it is a pity and there was apparently no other choice.

With a Palestinian checkpoint, our Minister of Culture takes a bit different tack: "My nephew was murdered by a terrorist in the guise of a Palestinian policeman, just because he went to pray on the eve of Passover" Minister Livnat said this morning. "Benyo was a completely innocent father of four, he wanted only to do good. He was named after Shlomo Ben Yosef, the martyr who gave his life for the Land of Israel. Now Benyo gave his own life in the same cause."

For the sake of historical accuracy, it is worth mentioning that the martyr Shlomo Ben Yosef - who gave his life for the Land of Israel and for whom Ben Yoseph Livnat was named - is the man who on April 21, 1938, shot and hurled a grenade at a civilian bus near Safad with the explicit intention of destroying its engine, so that it would fall into the abyss of the road and its passengers get killed. An Arab bus, of course.

Yes, this young man with the shiny eyes, who was killed in a shooting on a car, was named for Shlomo Ben Yosef, who had shot on a bus. And not only him. Also in many Israeli towns and cities, streets are called for Shlomo Ben Yosef. And his picture appeared on a postage stamp, too. In this country you should know which vehicle to shoot at, in order to become a hero and a martyr.

Whose grave?

"The Tomb of Joseph is ours, it belongs to the Jewish people. It is the tomb of our Joseph. We bought it for the full price, 3000 years ago. It is written down in the Bible. Every Jew should be able to come and pray there at any time". This also was stated today by Limor Livnat. In this case, not so much in her role as a bereaved aunt grieving for the loss of a beloved nephew. More in her regular position of the Minister of Culture, committed to instilling in Israeli Jews the values of historical-Biblical territorial rights.
But who is truly buried there?

Joseph - the boy who confronted his brothers and made them angry, who got sold into slavery in Egypt and rose there to great prominence - is one of the most fascinating characters in the the Bible, and his story is told with a considerable literary talent. But has there ever been such a person in reality? And did he really do the things which are told about him? And if so, is he truly buried under that specific structure at the Palestinian city of Nablus? (The place was identified for the first time as the tomb of the Biblical Joseph during the Middle Ages, i.e. at least three thousand years after the fact).

And even if Joseph actually lived in those days, and really did all the things told about him, and is really truly buried exactly at this point - would he truly want his burial place to become. after thousands of years, a flashpoint of permanent tension and friction between Israelis and Palestinians, producing ever new incidents and ever new fresh graves?

And perhaps, it can still be different

After all. Perhaps, the day after the occupation might take away the curse, the day after the city of Nablus is part of the State of Palestine. A day when any who truly wants to come to Joseph's Tomb in order to pray could do so without risk and without complications and without any special security coordination.

The Breslov Chassidim are in the habit of making a pilgrimage to the tomb of their Rebbe in the city of Uman, Ukraine. Once, this had been a difficult, complicated, clandestine and rather dangerous undertaking. Nowadays they fly in dozens of specially chartered planes and conduct ceremonies on the tomb, night and day, as ling as they please. After all, they contribute quite a bit to the flourishing tourism industry in that town...