In another direct assault against the country’s Bedouin-Palestinian community, Israeli police demolished a mosque in the Negev Bedouin city of Rahat during the evening hours of Saturday, 6 November.
Hundreds of policemen and Israeli Land Administration (ILA) authorities, in addition to tractors and ambulances, descended upon the city and demolished the mosque, citing Israeli police claims that the structure was built illegally.
Southern District Police Chief Commander Yochanan Danino, who supervised the operation, said, “We acted with resolve to enforce the rule of law and relayed a message that Israel Police will not ignore illegal activity while remaining sensitive to the Muslims’ feelings,” reported Ynet News.
Hundreds of residents protested the demolition and Israeli police used tear gas to disperse the crowd, detaining five. The Rahat municipality has called for a general strike in wake of the demolition.
“We could have reached a compromise and the razing could have been delayed, but this is a wicked government,” Rahat Mayor Faiz Abu Sahiban said.
“Seeing the mosque being destroyed is infuriating. They would never destroy a synagogue,” said Rahat resident Younes Abu Janem.
Israeli law enforcement officials said that members from “the Islamic Movement acted with defiance all the way: they were given an option to construct the building nearby but they rejected it, they didn’t obtain building permits, and connected illegally to the electricity grid. Their attempts to protest the demolition attracted few people,” reported the Jerusalem Post.
According Mayor Abu Sahiban, the act was a direct offense against all Muslims, and the “police should act responsibly and use its discretion.”
“They should at least postpone the demolition until after the holiday,” Sahiban said, adding that the act was a “flagrant violation” of Rahat’s jurisdiction. “We have four mosques that were built without due permit, so they can demolish them all.”
Rahat, located in the Negev and founded in 1972, currently has a population around 52,000, but numbers are growing as the Jewish National Fund, the Israeli Land Administration (ILA) and the government strengthen efforts to remove the Bedouin from their land. 2010 has seen a number of particularly aggressive actions on the part of the Israeli government.
The Bedouin village of El Araqib has suffered repeated harsh blows at the hands of Israeli authorities in the last several months. The ILA has destroyed the village six times in the past four months, with police arresting residents. While destructions and constant fear of homelessness has prompted some of the El Araqib villagers to move to Rahat, it now seems Israeli authorities will target them there as well.
The ILA is the government branch responsible for managing 93% of the land in Israel, which the country considers public domain. They have a history of uprooting olive trees in Palestinian villages and trying to plant forests as part of a plan to “green” the Negev, while making the nomadic lifestyle for the Bedouin impossible and pushing them to cities like Rahat, where employment is low and their traditional way of life impossible.
“If they continue to destroy it, we will rebuild the mosque over and over again,” said Yusuf Abu Jama, leader of the northern branch of the Isalmic Movement in Rahat.
“Now we are unified, the northern branch and the southern branch [of the Islamic movement]. Today, Arab people from all over the country will come to show their solidarity.”
Rahat residents began rebuilding the mosque on Sunday, with dozens honoring the site of yesterday’s destruction with worship.