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The Cross of Bethlehem II

1981—2012: From Dolphinarium to Joseph’s Tomb



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Every city has landmark buildings. Sometimes they are large, like the Empire State Building in New York, others are tiny like Tel Aviv’s Dolphinarium. Yesterday, March 7, 2012, the Tel Aviv District Planning and Building Committee met to approve the Dolphinarium’s demolition. Instead of the roundish structure resembling a wave caressing the thirsty shoreline, a link between the northern and southern sections of the city’s beachfront promenade would be constructed. The demolition was postponed until the committee hears public objections. In 1981, the promenade was dissected roughly at the limit between Tel Aviv and Jaffa by a low and curvy structure that served as amusement park. Known as “the blue-and-white (euphemism for ‘Israeli’) Disneyland,” the Dolphinarium operated until 1985, when it was transformed in rapid succession into a catering hall, the Dolphiton, a movie theater, the Dolphitek, a nightclub and finally into a several diving equipment stores. When all this failed, it secretly became a shrimp-growing pool. Shrimps are non-kosher, thus cultivating them in Israel is prohibited. Yet, they are highly popular, especially in restaurants near the shore. The Dolphinarium provided the perfect spot for this secretive activity. Then, on June 1, 2001, a deadly attack at the entrance to the dance club killed 21 young men and women; ever since, it has become a spot haunted by ghosts. Its demolition was inevitable.

Dolphinarium 2012

Dolphinarium 2012
Tel Aviv

In the proposed plan, the Dolphinarium will make way for a new section of Tel Aviv’s promenade, linking the city with the promenade continuing into Jaffa. The owner of the Dolphinarium, Buchmann, will receive land from the municipality. The plot is just across the street from the Dolphinarium, east of Hakovshim and Herbert Samuel streets. There, he will build a hotel and residential complex spread across two hi-rise towers 100 meters high, each with commercial space on the ground floor. Since this is one of the most exclusive locations in the country, huge financial profits are expected for all the parties involved. Where are the crowds that stood for hours at the Dolphinarium’s entrance, praying for a ticket before the end of the evening? Israel changed vastly since 1981; nowadays it seems the crowds are east from there, fighting with equal fervor for entering a new type of “blue-and-white Disneyland.” Nowadays, such a park must be designed for an ultra-Orthodox, kosher-obsessed, crowd. Accordingly, Joseph’s Tomb in Nablus is at the center of a struggle between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.


Joseph's Coat Brought to Jacob

Joseph's Coat Brought to Jacob | Giovanni Andrea de Ferrari, 1640



Joseph’s Tomb Odd Charm


Joseph’s Tomb

Joseph’s Tomb
Nablus, 1910

Today, March 8, Yedihot Aharonot reported that the Palestinian Authority has equipped Joseph’s Tomb with CCTVs, and a new fence in an attempt to prevent Bratzlav Hassidim (followers of the Ukrainian Rabbi Nachman of Breslov) from entering the compound illegally. “Hasidim” owe their name to the Hebrew word “hesed,” which means “kindness,” or “charity.” They separated from the ultra-legalistic Haredim in the 18th Century, when Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov began preaching for a less legalistic interpretation of the Pentateuch, for a Judaism based on spirituality and joy. Instead, he created a branch that is characterized by the veneration of leadership as intercessors of God. Given this, their attitude toward Joseph’s Tomb is not surprising.

Located at the eastern entrance to the valley that separates Mounts Gerizim and Ebal, in Nablus (“Shchem” in Hebrew, the name means “shoulder”), Joseph’s Tomb is where tradition locates the tomb of Joseph, son of Jacob. The present structure dates from 1868, and is composed of a small rectangular room with a cenotaph, an empty tomb acting as a memorial site. Together with the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron and Rachel’s Tomb in Bethlehem, this is one of the most venerated tomb site in the Holy Land. All these sites create singular security issues due to the large number of pilgrims from various religions visiting them, and the delicate political situation in their surroundings.

The most violent event happened in the Cave of the Patriarchs in 1994, following tensions created by the Oslo Accords of September 1993. In the following February, Baruch Goldstein—an Israeli-American settler—took part in a shooting spree in the cave. He left 29 Palestinian Muslims dead and scores injured. The subsequent riots resulted in additional 35 deaths (see USA Denies Visa to Jewish Knesset Member for actual implications). Also Joseph’s Tomb has experienced violence.

Several instances of shootings in the area of the tomb were reported in past years. In order to avoid similar events, the IDF imposed various limitations on the daily number of Jewish pilgrims allowed to visit the site, with occasional total bans on the visits. As of now, the site is controlled by the Palestinian Authority, but at least one Israeli minister is calling for changes. In late November 2011, Interior Minister Eli Yishai (from the Sephardic-Haredi party Shas) visited the tomb together with 1,500 Jewish worshippers, and said “the tomb belongs to us and we must resume full control.”

One of the results on the limitations of allowed pilgrims, is night assaults on the compound. Bratslav Hasidim often try to enter the compound at night, without authorization or coordination with the IDF and the Palestinian security forces. To prevent these infiltrations, the Palestinian Authority has now stationed cameras on the road leading to the compound and inside it. Moreover, a fence has been erected around the site and heavy bars have been installed on all windows. As of now, the measure has proven effective, to the extent that the Hasidim have begun a public campaign in Nablus. They are distributing Arabic and Hebrew flyers reading:
“To the Palestinian security forces: In the name of God almighty, to whom we all pray, we come in peace to pray at the holy tomb of Joseph the righteous.
“We do not seek war and we do not seek to provoke you. We respect you and have nothing against you. We ask that you allow us to pray here in a safe and free manner.”

Interior Minister Eli Yishai

Interior Minister Eli Yishai
Joseph's Tomb, Nov 2011

Nablus is one of the hottest points in the West Bank. The request of the Hasidim to visit this new “blue-and-white Disneyland”—a neo-Diskotel—may seem innocent, but it implies massive protective arrangements. Moreover, they cannot assure their being peaceful. One of the clashes between the Hasidim and Palestinian troops, ended in 2011 in the death of Ben-Yosef Livnat, the nephew of Israel’s Culture Minister Limor Livnat. Violence among the two forces is common. The flyers being scattered nowadays over Nablus are nothing but the first step in the new policy declared by Minister Yishai: “the tomb belongs to us and we must resume full control.” After all, Pharaoh “set him over the land of Egypt” (Genesis 41:33), and the State of Israel is committed to rewrite the entire Bible from scratch, God’s will or not. Israel, Egypt, same, same. Joseph ben Jacob, Eli Yishai, same, same. Israel, Palestine, shoot, shoot.

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