‘War of the shrines’ stirs tension between Palestinians, Israelis

An Ultra-Orthodox Jewish man prays next to candles in the Tomb of Caleb Ben Yefuneh in the West Bank village of Kifl Hares, near the Jewish settlement of Ariel, January 5, 2012. The Israeli army late on Wednesday night allowed hundreds of ultra-Orthodox Jews to visit the tombs of biblical figures Joshua Ben Nun and Caleb Ben Yefuneh, on the traditional Jewish calendar date dedicated to commemorating people whose date of death is unknown. REUTERS/Nir Elias (WEST BANK - Tags: RELIGION POLITICS) - RTR2VWDO

Israeli settlers raided the village of Kifl Hares in Salfit province in the northern West Bank on Jan. 8. It was not the first time, and it will not be the last. Every Jewish holiday, hundreds of Israeli settlers, under the protection of Israeli soldiers, enter Kifl Hares to pray in the village on the grounds that it is linked to the Jewish prophet Joshua.

The phenomenon is not restricted to this village. The war of the shrines has pitted Israeli settlers against Palestinians since the occupation of the West Bank in 1967. The settlers have been trying to impose their control over them on religious grounds, using biblical stories to lay claim to them and the land surrounding them.

Kifl Hares has three shrines, which the settlers claim contain the grave of the biblical prophet Joshua. Every Jewish holiday or religious festival, they invade it for prayers and religious rites, the head of Salfit’s tourist board, Muntasir Moussa, told Al-Monitor.

He added that the three shrines do not date back to biblical times. For their part, local elders say leaders of a local family named Bouzit are actually buried there.

Moussa said Palestinians do not deny the presence of biblical prophets’ graves in the West Bank, but say many shrines have histories that are clearly not linked to that period.

Claims that shrines date back to the Jewish prophets have often been used as a pretext to take them over. During Jewish holidays, the Israeli army imposes a curfew in the area. In some cases, this has been followed by the shrine area being confiscated and new settlements being built nearby.

Read more on the Al-Monitor.