A challenge in Rahat

The mosque in Rahat marks yet another attempt by extremist organizations such as the Islamic Movement to delegitimize Israel and challenge the state’s right to political and legal autonomy.

November 9, 2010 04:22
3 minute read.
Rahat residents praying at site of mosque

311_bulldozed Rahat mosque. (photo credit: Channel 10)

Land disputes between Arab and Jewish Israelis are on the rise. A building project of 20 units reserved for religious Jewish families located in the heart of Jaffa’s Ajami neighborhood, which has aroused stiff Arab opposition, overcame its final obstacle to completion this week after the Supreme Court announced that it could not adjudicate on the matter since the land had already been leased by the Israel Land Authority and the units already sold.

In Safed, meanwhile, a call by the city’s Chief Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu and over a dozen other rabbis not to rent or sell houses to Beduin college students has sparked violent confrontations.

And a Knesset bill presented last week that would empower small communities to adopt selective acceptance policies – widely seen as an attempt to make it easier for Jews to keep Arabs out of their towns – has been another source of sectarian tension.

But perhaps the most violent incident in recent memory took place late Saturday night. Hundreds of police officers in riot gear clashed with over a thousand residents in the Beduin city of Rahat in the Negev. Police were there to oversee the demolition of a mosque illegally built by the extremist Northern Branch of the Islamic Movement. Rahat’s residents threw rocks and epithets such as “Nazis” at the police. Five were arrested.

Funds for the house of prayer were reportedly raised by the Islamic Movement during Operation Cast Lead. It is one of over a dozen mosques in Rahat, most of which are illegal constructions but not as blatantly so as the one built by the Islamic Movement.

Southern Division Police chief Cmdr. Yochanan Danino said that an offer to provide an alternative site was rejected. Shlomo Tseazer, an Israel Land Authority official with close ties to Rahat’s municipality, said that the house of prayer was intentionally built to create a provocation, which it did. Arab media presented the demolition as an attack on Islam. Rahat’s mayor, Faiz Abu Sahiban, who actually signed a demolition order in April before having a change of heart in the face of extremists’ demands, was quoted as saying the destruction of the mosque was a direct offense against all Muslims.

There are those who might argue that Israel would have been better off leaving the mosque standing, thus avoiding the trouncing it got in the world media. After all, does one more illegal building in the Negev really make a difference? Since the completion of the mosque in March, numerous attempts have been made by the ILA and police to reach a peaceful compromise with Rahat’s residents. Finally, time ran out. The Beersheba District Court had ordered that the demolition be carried out by the middle of the month, and next week is Id al-Adha, the Muslim feast of the sacrifice, hardly an opportune time to raze a mosque. Postponing would have meant ignoring a court order, thus undermining the very foundations of law and order.

So, yes, one mosque does make a difference.

THE MOSQUE in Rahat marks yet another attempt by extremist organizations such as the Islamic Movement to delegitimize Israel and challenge the state’s right to political and legal autonomy – not just in territories that came under Israeli control in the wake of the Six Day War, but even within the Green Line in places like Rahat.

Perhaps part of the reason for the radicalization of Arab Israelis is the failure on the part of Israeli governments to encourage integration. The sharp fall in IDF volunteer service among Beduin, for instance, is due in part to the fact that rewards provided by Israel for enlisting are paltry in comparison to the enormous pressures in Arab society to show loyalty to the Palestinian nationalist cause. Racist declarations made by rabbis against Beduin students, who came to Safed to benefit from Israel’s higher education system, further exacerbate a growing feeling of alienation from Israeli society.

Israel faces tremendous challenges as it attempts to balance the Jewish state’s right to pursue self-determination in its historical homeland with the democratic imperative to safeguard the rights of a large and often hostile Arab minority with its own nationalist aspirations. Strict adherence to the law, including the enforcing of building ordinances in places like Rahat, is essential to maintaining this balance.

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