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An Israeli Arab lawyer warned on Monday that there could be bloodshed if municipal authorities go ahead with their plans to turn a century-old Beersheba mosque into a municipal museum.
"If the mosque is turned into a museum, the issue will turn into a public dispute," warned Hassan Jabarin, head of Adalah, the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel. "This happened in India between Moslems in Hindus over a house of worship in Ayodhya and people were killed over it. I don't want that to happen here."
Jabarin was responding to a compromise proposal suggested by HCJ presiding Justice Ayala Procaccia during a hearing on a petition by two Israeli Arab organizations demanding that the central mosque in Beersheba, built in the early 1900s by the Turks, be restored as a mosque for the first time since the 1948 War of Independence.
According to a town-planning scheme, the mosque is earmarked to become the municipal museum. However, Procaccia suggested that the building be designated as an Islamic museum that could also hold cultural and educational events.
Later, Jabarin said he had not understood that Procaccia meant that the mosque would become an Islamic rather than a general museum, and indicated that Israeli Arab leaders might accept the idea.
Attorney Elisha Peleg, representing the city of Beersheba, was critical but grudgingly said the municipality would consider it. Beersheba turned down an earlier suggestion by Procaccia to turn the mosque into an Islamic cultural center.
Peleg insisted that the mosque should become a museum "for all the children of Abraham the Patriarch. This is meant to be the Museum of the Negev. And Jews live here as well as Arabs. In fact, there were Jews in Beersheba before the Turks and the Arabs."
Procaccia urged Peleg to treat the dispute between the Israeli Arabs and the municipality with sensitivity and care. She publicly criticized him for a document he had sent earlier to the court in response to the petition. "The writing, the tone and the words are unacceptable," she told him. "We must be attentive to the emotions involved. We must meet the other side halfway, precisely because of the need to maintain public order. Think about it."
"What kind of items will be displayed in an Islamic museum," Peleg asked the court with a tone that sounded mocking. At another point, he said the museum "wouldn't include a prayer area. That's for sure."
Procaccia ordered the sides to consider her proposal. She gave the state and municipal authorities 60 days to reply and another 60 days to the petitioners for their response.