Who’s afraid of a Bedouin?

Last June, Israel’s Supreme Court reached a ruling that some saw as a compromise to a legal battle that had lasted nearly a decade.  Beer Sheva’s Big Mosque that has been closed to prayer since 1948 would be converted into a museum of Islamic culture.

The decision disappointed thousands of Muslim citizens who wished to re-open the Ottoman-built mosque as a place of worship, thereby fulfilling a gaping need: there is currently no public space for Muslims to worship in Beer Sheva.

This month the Big Mosque tried out its new mantle as a museum, but visitors will not find one mention of Islam. Instead passersby can see figurines wearing the military fatigues of the British and Israeli armies, and pictures of Mandate-era governmental buildings in an exhibit titled, “History of Be’er Sheva: From 1900 – 2011.”

According to an Adalah press release, “The building’s signs and pamphlets distributed at the entrance reveal that the Big Mosque has been turned into an architectural museum, recording construction in Beer el-Sabe from the British Mandate until today.”

Nuri al-Uqbi, the director of the Association for the Support and Protection of the Rights of the Bedouin in Israel, told Adalah:

“I went yesterday, on 5 March, on a trip to the Big Mosque, and I felt horrified and furious at this violation of the mosque’s sanctity. In the mosque there are plastic dolls and models wearing British and Israeli uniforms, some of them in shorts, among other exhibits that are irrelevant to Arab-Islamic culture or tradition.”

The Big Mosque was originally built in 1906, and was used accordingly until the Nakbah in 1948. From 1948 until 1953, the newly created State of Israel imposed military rule on its remaining Palestinian population, and used the building as a courthouse and prison. Since 1991, the mosque had been closed for public use of any kind and has subsequently fallen into disrepair.

In August 2002, Adalah, the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, the Islamic Committee in the Naqab, and 23 Palestinian citizens of Israel from Beer Sheva petitioned the High Court of Justice to re-open the Big Mosque for prayer.

Arguing against the petition, the Beer Sheva municipality claimed that allowing worship in the mosque would disturb the peace, and argued it should be used as a “general museum” instead.            

Justice Miriam Naor, who sided with Beer Sheva’s municipality, said a general museum for all religions and ethnic groups would promote “multiculturalism and coexistence rather than disrupting it.”

A city that refuses to grant its large Muslim population with any place to worship does not appear to care much for “multiculturalism.”

But why does the municipality fear the existence of a single mosque in Beer Sheva? Or an Islamic museum? Is it so insecure with its own identity in the “Jewish State” that it must deny the historical lineage that connects Muslims and Arabs to the land?

Israel consistently denies its Arab and Muslim population with equal rights in what appears to be an anxious effort to assert Jewish supremacy in a land it took by force.

It looks like Israel is once again displaying its neurosis to the world.

Adalah has submitted a pre-petition to the Attorney General, to immediately remove the current exhibition.




Charlotte Silver

Charlotte Silver's picture

Charlotte Silver is an independent journalist and regular writer for The Electronic Intifada. She is based in Oakland, California and has reported from Palestine since 2010. Follow her on Twitter @CharESilver.