Adalah: Mosque should be protected as place of worship, not a museum

Adalah to Supreme Court: The Big Mosque in Beer el-Sabe Should Not be Turned into a Cultural Museum but Must be Re-Opened as a Place of Worship

On 21 January 2007, Adalah submitted a response to the Supreme Court stating that it rejects the government’s suggestion to convert the Big Mosque in Beer el-Sabe (Beer Sheva) into a “museum of Islamic culture and Eastern peoples, so as to ensure that an expression of the various aspects of the Islamic heritage is presented according to the professional considerations of the museum’s directors, and in a way which corresponds to the regulations which relate to museums in Israel.”

This suggestion was also previously proposed by the Supreme Court on 1 May 2006, in the context of a petition filed by Adalah Attorney Morad El-Sana in August 2002 on behalf of the Association for Support and Defense of Bedouin Rights in Israel, the Islamic Committee in the Naqab and 23 Palestinian citizens of Israel, and in Adalah’s own name. The Supreme Court offered this suggestion for the purpose of reaching a settlement between the sides, after the Municipality of Beer el-Sabe refused to open the mosque for prayer allegedly “for security reasons.”

In the response, Adalah Attorney Adel Badir argued that, after consulting with religious and community leaders, including the head of the Shar’ia Courts, Judge Ahmed Natour, there is a consensus over the preservation of the sacred nature of the site as a mosque designated primarily for prayer, and that the mosque should be governed by Muslims. Adalah further argued that damaging the sacredness of the site is prohibited both under Israeli law (the Protection of Holy Sites Law - 1967, and the Penal Law) and the Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty - 1992. The right of Muslim and Arab residents of Beer el-Sabe and the surrounding area to enjoy freedom of worship and prayer in the mosque is a basic right, recognized by the Supreme Court in prior rulings as a right which must be protected regardless of the disapproval of intolerant voices. The petitioners argued that, “In Beer el-Sabe there is a synagogue for every 700 people, but there is not one place of worship for the approximately 5,000 Muslims and Arabs living in the town, and the hundreds of thousands who travel through the town each day.”

Adalah also argued that, “The proposed settlement ignores the fact that the issue concerns a mosque which was built over a hundred years ago, and which remains standing to this day. The issue does not concern a newly-constructed building … It is a holy site for all Muslims and a part of the history of the Arabs in this country, and not only for the petitioners. It is not possible to put an end to the sacred nature of the mosque, and it is not possible for the petitioners to agree for it to be put in the service of other goals other than the goal for which the mosque was constructed.”

Adalah further argued in the response that the Municipality’s refusal to open the mosque as a place for prayer derives from political and improper considerations. The Beer el-Sabe Municipality claims that re-opening the mosque could damage the social fabric and the sensitive relations between the Arab and Jewish residents of the town. The petitioners argue that converting the mosque into a museum would itself damage relations with Arabs from Beer el-Sabe and the Naqab in particular, and Arab citizens of Israel in general.

Opening the mosque as a museum and preventing residents of and visitors to Beer el-Sabe from praying in it is abhorrent, especially given that in all major towns and cities in Israel, such as Tel-Aviv-Yaffa, Jerusalem, Haifa, Led (Lod), Ramle and Herzliya, there are mosques for Muslims to pray in.

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