Israel Lands Authority demolishes illegal Rahat mosque

Southern district head to 'Post': We don't expect rise in violence; protesters throw stones, 5 arrested; Rahat mayor calls general strike.

November 7, 2010 20:30
2 minute read.
THE MOSQUE is torn down yesterday.

Rahat mosque demolish 311. (photo credit: Southern District Police)


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An illegally built mosque constructed by the Islamic Movement’s Northern Branch in Rahat was demolished by Israel Lands Authority officials early on Sunday, six months after the district court and magistrates ruled the structure to be in breach of the law.

Hundreds of Israel Police officers, backed by border policemen, protected the officials as they took down the 400- square meter structure, which was built six months ago in the parking lot of a soccer stadium to mark Land Day, an annual day of rallies held by Israeli Arabs to protest what they say is government seizure of their lands.

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A small team entered the building before it was demolished to remove all sacred items from it with care, police said.

Rioters threw rocks at police during the clearance, resulting in five arrests, Israel Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said.

The mosque has been described by courts as a direct provocation toward Israeli sovereignty due to its manner of construction and location.

Speaking to The Jerusalem Post, Southern District police head Cmdr. Yohanan Danino said officers had prepared for the possibility of stone throwing, and that there was no expectation of an escalation in violence.

He said activists had begun to lay down a foundation in preparation for rebuilding the mosque, but that the new foundation mostly consisted of cans.

“The Northern Branch [of the Islamic Movement] built this structure. I don’t believe this will spoil our relations with the Beduin of Rahat. We have spent years building up relations in the form of mutual visits and forums,” Danino said.

Danino has often tried to delay court-ordered demolitions of Beduin structures, to allow time for a negotiated settlement. He regularly meets with Beduin community leaders and is advised by an Arabicspeaking community relations officer.

“We help where we can. The fact that we are trying to bring the community closer to us does not mean that the law can be violated. I believe the line is well understood,” Danino said.

“We’re not seeing Rahat rising up as a result of this. There are a few individuals from the Islamic Movement’s Northern Branch who are rebuilding, but we expected this,” he said.

“Our actions sent a message that the Israel Police will not ignore violations of the rule of law, while giving maximum considerations to the sensitivities of Muslims.”

The mosque had been connected to the power grid and the water supply system, police said on Sunday. “After attempts at dialogue were tried and failed... it was decided to implement the court’s decision and clear the mosque.”

The Rahat Municipality declared the mosque to be illegal within days of its construction, but then made a U-turn and said it was legitimate.

“They demolished it and we are rebuilding,” Mayor Fayiz Abu Sahiban said.

Locals built the mosque illegally because the state authorities would take too long to approve it, though the municipality tried to retroactively obtain a building permit, he said. Most of Rahat’s 13 other mosques were built illegally, Abu Sahiban said.

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