Daily Israel Report

High Court Establishes Muslim Museum in Be’er Sheva

Former mosque was intended as museum for monotheistic religions. Court decides it will honor only one – Islam.
By Gil Ronen
First Publish: 7/5/2011, 1:39 PM / Last Update: 7/5/2011, 1:59 PM

The High Court has decided that the Big Mosque structure of Be’er Sheva, which has not been active as a mosque since 1948, will become a museum for Islam. The court rejected the Municipality’s position that the building should be turned into a museum honoring the three large monotheistic religions.

The petitioners – led by Adalah, an Arab irredentist group funded by the leftist New Israel Fund – had requested that the building revert to its pre-Independence use as an active mosque. The court did not reject this idea but said that the petitioners need to first file the request with planning authorities and only then, if it is rejected, turn to the courts.
 
The mosque ceased serving as a Muslim house of worship following the liberation of Be’er Sheva in 1948. In 1953, it was turned into the Negev Museum, housing displays that illustrated the history of the region. However, the museum was closed a few years ago because the structure was deemed unsafe. 
 
For decades, Arab irredentist elements have advocated the return of the mosque’s pre-1948 status. The Municipality, meanwhile, has been planning to turn it into a museum for Judaism, Islam and Christianity.
 
The court chose to reject arguments that turning the structure back into a mosque would be a victory for Islamist irredentism and would adversely affect security and stability. 
 
Two of three judges on the panel – Salim Joubran and Ayala Procaccia – signed the majority decision, with the dissent of Judge Miriam Naor. Naor’s minority opinion was extremely critical of the judicial activism exemplified by the decision. She noted that it was very uncommon for the court to reject the defendants’ position and yet decide on a solution that the petitioners had never asked for, as in this case. The petitioners demanded the creation of a mosque – not an Islamic museum.
 
Naor may replace Judge Dorit Beinisch as Supreme Court President in 2012. Beinisch is a disciple of her predecessor Aharon Barak, the father of judicial activism in Israel.
 


IDF liberates Be'er Sheva, 1948 / Wikimedia Commons