Shechem, called by the 7th century invading Arabs “Nablus” (after the Roman name Neapolis), was home to a Jewish community since Biblical times, as well as to the Samarian community (the only indigenous Palestinians aside from the Mustarabi Jews). For centuries, religious life for both Jews and Samaritans was centered around the Tomb of Joseph just outside the city, and for Samaritans, Mount Gerizim on the city’s southern flank where their Temple is situated. Since the end of the Crusader period in the 13th century, both groups have suffered from persecution at the hands of the local Arabs and Shechem/Nablus had become a center of Muslim fanaticism. The pogrom of 1855 forced many into Islam.
Tomb of Joseph, early 1900s. Jews and Samaritans have prayed here for thousands of years.
Members of the Samaritan community of Shechem (Nablus), c. 1905.
from the Jewish Encyclopedia
By 1904, the Jews finally abandoned the city leaving only the Samaritan community who often lived in a precarious position. After World War I, some Jews returned and attempted to reestablish the community, but they were driven away by the Arab pogroms of 1929. Jews still visited the city, though, especially when there was a major event among the Samaritans.
After the War of Independence in 1949, Shechem found itself under Jordanian occupation and Jewish pilgrimages to the Tomb of Joseph were banned. Since the city was reunified with the rest of Israel in 1967, Jews, once again, were able to visit the Tomb of Joseph and a yeshivah was eventually established on its premises. However, Jews were still forbidden from actually living in the city, but in 1983, the community of Har Bracha was established just outside the city on the southern ridge of Mount Gerizim. During the Oslo War, otherwise known as the “2nd intifada” beginning in 2000, Jews were again banned from entering the city and the Tomb of Joseph and its yeshivah was destroyed.
Tomb of Joseph after the Arab bloodbath, 2000
photo by Nathan Scheider
In 2002, the intifada forced the Samaritans to leave the city as well and the Israeli government, therefore, built them the new village of Kiryat Luza on Mount Gerizim around their holy Temple, and next to Har Bracha.
Today, the Israeli authorities, together with the local Arabs, still forbid Jews from entering Shechem, and praying at the Tomb of Joseph, except once a month, late at night and in the wee hours of the morning. The yeshivah that once existed at the Tomb is now banned from entering the site as well and is now located in the nearby Jewish community of Yitzhar. As of this writing, it is under Israeli military occupation.