Midnight at Joshua’s Tomb With the IDF
It is midnight. It is cold. And we are headed in.
Israeli soldiers are on every street corner, armed to the teeth. Siren lights and a few dim streetlamps provide the only illumination.
Amidst the military movements, an eerie silence prevails.
I am with hundreds of Jews who will pour into the Arab village of Khif El Halat in Samaria, in order to pray at the tomb of Joshua — the heir to Moses, who conquered this land for the Israelites more than 3,000 years ago.
Jews are allowed to pray here only four times per year. Tonight — the anniversary of the death of Moses and the succession of Joshua — is one of those nights. The Jews cannot pray at other times, because it is simply too dangerous.
So, four times per year, the IDF arranges a military operation to escort them to the tomb. Even then, the Jews can only pray late at night — when the risks are the smallest.
I have become used to these military prayer operations, having attended two previously at Joseph’s tomb in Nablus. I have become used to the presence of the military, and the inaudible hum of darkened streets — seemingly bereft of inhabitants. I have become somewhat inured to being a walking target, kept safe only by the brave Israeli soldiers.
As I begin the 20-minute walk through the village, I see Yossi Dagan, the head of the Samaria Regional Council. He says that the government must do more to ensure that Jewish men, women and children can pray here without fear.
The New York Times and the Western media falsely portray Israel as an occupier and the Arabs as victims. But no Arab, anywhere in Israel, needs an armed escort to pray at a Muslim holy site. Every Friday, you can see thousands of Arabs walking to the Temple Mount. They walk right past Israeli police and soldiers without missing a beat. No one would even think of harming them.
But here we are. Hundreds of Jews, trying to pray at the tomb of one of the greatest Jewish leaders of all time, must sneak into an Arab village — in the dead of night — with a small army whose only purpose is to stop us from being massacred.
We first encounter the grave of Caleb — Joshua’s fellow spy, who was sent by Moses to inspect the land of Israel. The other spies did not want to go into Israel, but Caleb and Joshua had a different view. “Let us go up and seize the land because it is easily within our power.”
These ancient words could not be more fitting for my current circumstance. As we pray at the grave, I am well aware that only a tiny minority of Jews would ever come to a place like this in the middle of the night to pray. Even in Israel, we have been taught to fear our neighbors. They are giants, and we must cower.
In truth, we must all be neighbors. We have no reason to fear the Arabs, and they have no reason to intimidate us. We are all brothers. Yet peace will only come when they accept and welcome our presence, and stop trying to murder us.
I think to myself that the Arab village we are currently in has no fence around it. In fact, none of the Arab villages in the West Bank do. They don’t need it — because there aren’t any terrorists trying to infiltrate their communities, and slaughter their children. Indeed, the easiest way to immediately distinguish an Arab village and a Jewish settlement in Judea and Samaria is by whether the community is surrounded by a fence.
We continue walking, and a few minutes later we reach Joshua’s Tomb. It is a glorious site. There are hundreds of worshipers crammed inside, surrounded by scores of Israeli soldiers. Most of the worshipers are orthodox and observant. They pray loudly and fervently. But there are many secular Jews as well.
Perhaps they came to prove a simple point. That no part of the Holy Land should be beyond the reach of prayer, and that no man should fear anyone but God.
Shmuley Boteach, “America’s Rabbi,” is the international bestselling author of 30 books including his most recent The Israel Warrior. Follow him on Facebook @RabbiShmuley.