Bitter Beersheba mosque dispute heads back to court

The High Court of Justice is due to resume discussion Monday of a three-year-old petition submitted by two Israeli Arab organizations demanding that the Central Mosque in Beersheba be restored as a Muslim house of worship after 57 years. The Beersheba Municipality strongly opposes the move, warning that the reopening of the mosque in the center of town would create religious and national tensions and endanger the safety of the inhabitants. According to the petitioners' attorney, Morad El-Sana, of Adalah, the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, there are about 150,000 Muslims in the Negev area and between 3,000 and 5,000 in the city itself. There have been two previous hearings on the petition. In the first, the State Attorney's Office announced that it would appoint a committee to examine the request. The committee recommended not allowing the reestablishment of the mosque for security and other reasons. The petitioners rejected the committee's findings and charged that it had been biased in favor of the government. During the second hearing, presiding Justice Ayala Procaccia suggested a compromise whereby the building would reopen as a Muslim cultural center and the petitioners would have the right to request the reopening of the mosque in a few years. However, the Beersheba Municipality rejected the proposal, basing its arguments on the committee's findings. El-Sana told The Jerusalem Post that in light of the respondents' rejection of the court's compromise proposal, he would ask it to order the state and the municipality to present their detailed arguments and an affidavit from a government official, explaining why it refused to reopen the mosque.