The public’s shocked reaction to the desecration of the biblical site of Prophet Joshua’s altar, one of the most important Jewish heritage sites in the land of Israel, is puzzling. After all, the Palestinians have a long-standing reputation for decimating and damaging Jewish heritage sites. Some of the damage was intentional and aimed at supporting their claims the Jewish people have no historical or religious connection to the land, and some of the damage was merely out of spite.
The images of the stones that had been cut out of the terrace surrounding the site, which they intend to use as the lower level of the road to be paved there, was reminiscent of the shattered tombstones the Jordanians left on the Mount of Olives during their rule. The Jordanians displaced those tombstones ahead of the 1967 Six-Day War to make way for a new road. In some cases, they were used for sidewalks and public bathrooms.
It is outrageous that the government has been powerless to act to prevent such incidents. As far as Joshua’s altar is concerned, the legal argument is that the construction was carried out in Area B, which is under the authority of Ramallah. Jericho’s Hasmonean fortresses are situated in Area C, which can be accessed through Area A. In the case of the Temple Mount, as in every other part of sovereign Israel, we have seen a deliberate and longstanding policy of evading responsibility for enforcing planning and antiquity laws on the site due to religious sensitivities.
In all of these cases, Israel has either avoided using the means it has at its disposal to pressure the Palestinians or is too slow to act.
The damage inflicted on Joshua’s altar should be condemned by all members of society, regardless of their religion. This is not about right versus left or religious versus secular. A political lobby must be established that operates within Israel, as well as in the international arena, to ensure that incidents like these never happen again.
This article first appeared in Israel Hayom.