The Joseph’s Tomb complex in Nablus was burned by Palestinian rioters on Friday as violence in the West Bank and Israel continues to escalate. The burial place of the biblical patriarch has been a flashpoint for Israeli-Palestinian violence before. It was also ransacked around the beginning of the second Intifada in 2000. The tomb itself reportedly remained intact Friday. The fire was started as Palestinians set up a barricade in Nablus to prevent Israeli troops from entering the city to destroy homes. Also Friday, a Palestinian man disguised as a news photographer stabbed an Israeli soldier at a West Bank settlement before being shot dead by other troops.
The current round of violence, which began around Rosh Hashana last month, has prompted new security measures from the Israeli government, including establishing military checkpoints in Palestinian neighborhoods in East Jerusalem, banning Palestinians from entering the Old City, easing restrictions on firearms for Israelis, and reviving the controversial policy of demolishing the homes of Palestinians who attack Israelis.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has also been locked in a war of words with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who he accuses of inciting the situation with anti-Israeli rhetoric. In comments that seemed to be aimed at the Obama administration, which has urged both sides to condemn the violence, Netanyahu also warned on Thursday against drawing “false symmetry” between Israeli and Palestinian actions. Abbas, who condemned the burning of the tomb Friday as “irresponsible” and promised that the damage would be repaired, has accused Israel of causing the violence by using excessive force against Palestinians and the “executions of our children in cold blood.” He had pointed to the supposed killing of a Palestinian boy by Israeli police, accused by authorities of involvement in a stabbing spree—though Israeli authorities released a photo of the boy alive in a hospital bed. Palestinian officials now say Abbas received erroneous information, but they maintain that the boy and his cousin, who was shot dead, were innocent and had been attacked by Israeli settlers.
Netanyahu has said that he is willing to meet Abbas for negotiations, but Palestinian leaders have ruled out face-to-face talks until Israel halts the construction of West Bank settlements. There’s reportedly work underway for Israeli and Palestinian representatives to hold separate talks at the same location—perhaps Jordan—with Secretary of State John Kerry and Jordanian King Abdullah II, but for now, that feels pretty far removed from the deteriorating situation on the ground.