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Jewish-Arab City of Lod Up in Arms over Mosque Demolition Order

Arab population threatens and incites over order against illegal building addition, municipality postpones demolition.
By Ido Ben-Porat, Ari Yashar
First Publish: 6/30/2014, 10:28 AM

Mosque (illustration)
Mosque (illustration)
Thinkstock

A demolition order announced on illegal additions to a mosque has heightened tensions in Lod, a mixed Jewish and Arab city in the coastal region to the south of Tel Aviv.

The city, which has been plagued by Arab crime and harassment of the Jewish community, was compared by visiting MKs in 2010 to the town of Sderot that has been beleaguered by rocket fire by Gaza terrorists, given the palpable fear induced by the crime.

Indeed, Arab residents of Lod in April mocked Holocaust Martyrs' and Heroes' Remembrance Day by launching fireworks at Jewish homes just before the somber nationwide ceremonies began.

The recent demolition order has led to the security attachment for the city's mayor Yair Revivo to be increased in recent days, "due to the threats and incitement against him in the mosques," read a statement released by the Lod Municipality.

The statement added "the mayor remains firm in his conviction to enforce the demolition order."

Yedioth Aharonoth reported on Monday that there has been a large local Arab backlash to the order, with the order's opponents saying "this mosque, which was established before the founding of the state and stands on Muslim Waqf (Islamic trust) lands, never had permits, and therefore there's no problem here."

The municipality for its part noted that the mosque is on state lands, belonging to the Israel Land Authority.

"This is a targeted provocation that could bring a large disturbance, and that would be a shame," threatened the opponents of the order.

Members of the mosque claim that they did not make any building additions that would justify the municipality's involvement, with the mosque's sheikh saying "we didn't build anything new, really nothing, we just replaced the old roof on our women's prayer area."

The sheikh further claimed that the old roof, made of steel sheets, leaked in the winter and was hot in the summer, and therefore was replaced, adding "nothing else aside from that. Therefore, any claim that we cast concrete here or something like that, or that we made additions, isn't right."

However, the municipality's engineering branch maintains that no permit was asked for by the mosque to make the changes, as is required by law, adding that a structure was built adjacent to the mosque in an illegal addition.

"Like asking for a permit on the Western Wall"

The topic was discussed in the last municipal council meeting, during which Council Member Faraj Ibn Faraj attacked the demolition order, saying "the mosque was founded before the state was established. It doesn't have permits or paperwork, and never did. To come and ask us now for permits is like telling me to bring paperwork for the Western Wall, to go 5,000 years back."

It should be noted that the Western Wall (Kotel) is the surviving wall of the Second Temple in Jerusalem, which Jewish tradition records was built approximately in 350 BCE, not 5,000 years ago.

Revivo, the Lod mayor, responded to Faraj, saying "I didn't ask for history, I asked for paperwork on the new concrete. Whoever wants to build needs to submit a proper request."

According to the municipal statement last week, Revivo "met with respected members of the Muslim community, in order to confirm that matters will not get out of hand, and that the incitement in the Friday prayers against the mayor and municipality senior members will stop."

"I treat the threats with full seriousness, and yet I ordered that the demolition orders of illegal structures be enforced without bias, whether in the Arab or Jewish population, exactly as a demolition order on illegal building additions was conducted against a synagogue in the Chabad neighborhood," Revivo was quoted as saying in the statement.

Revivo added that members of an Arab party left the municipality council's coalition, noting "it doesn't contribute to calming things."

Delaying the demolition

The municipality clarified that the order specifies "not the demolition of the mosque, but rather of building additions that were built adjacent to it...not in accordance with the building and planning laws."

In the statement, the municipality added that the demolition order came at the request of the owners of the land, namely the Israel Land Authority. It added that Muslim leaders claimed the land was owned by the Waqf, and that they claimed having documents proving it.

The municipality's engineering branch decided to postpone the demolition, which was planned for this Thursday, even as sources in the municipality state that the order will be enforced.

Apparently Revivo had the demolition postponed by three months so as to avoid "sensitivity" during the Muslim holiday month of Ramadan, which began on Saturday. He added that during that time he hoped the permits would be submitted allowing the addition to be recognized under the law.