Mosque at Burin
Mosque at Burin Ishi Chazani, Mirkam Studio

Israel’s High Court held a hearing Monday on an appeal by the Regavim Movement for the Preservation of the Nation’s Lands over an illegal mosque being built in the Arab village of Burin, just south of Shechem  and in between Yitzhar and Bracha.

During the hearing, the judges said that the continued construction of the mosque constituted “contempt of the law and ignoring of judicial orders issued against it.”

The judges further stated that “the Palestinians are making up their own laws with regard to planning and building, both within the ‘Green Line’ and beyond it, and the State must enforce the law equally in all sectors. Reality cannot be changed in one second but a law should be applied to both sides.”

The State Attorney’s Office representative argued during the hearing that even if steps were taken to build the mosque contrary to a court order not to do so, they are simple steps to repair and remove scaffolding at the mosque in question and as such are not a violation of the court order. The representative also argued that the mosque is not at the top of national priorities as it does not constitute a security risk.

In response, Regavim presented through their attorney, Amir Fischer, pictures which prove that the work that was done was not removing of scaffolding but actual construction of a whole floor of the mosque, and that this construction was made after the High Court had issued orders to cease the work on the mosque.

“There’s a minaret being built, and again and again the petitioner comes to court with photographs to prove so, while the State says an inspector was sent to stop the work,” Fischer said. “It is clear to everyone that they will continue to build and the only way to stop it is to demolish the building.”

The illegality of the mosque was first raised by Regavim almost a year ago. The lawsuit had come in response to a decision in which a synagogue in the nearby Jewish community of El-Matan was deemed illegal and ordered sealed.

The order to seal the El-Matan synagogue was handed down by the court in response to a lawsuit by several neighboring Arab villages and leftist legal rights group Yesh Din. The residents of El-Matan were outraged by the decision, particularly since construction of the illegal Burin mosque continued, and had threatened to prevent the demolition of the synagogue.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu eventually intervened and ordered to halt the plans to seal the El-Matan synagogue. The community’s residents and the State later reached a compromise, according to which the synagogue was sealed while a plan was submitted to bring the building into compliance with the law.

As for the appeal over the Burin mosque, the State clarified in February that its official position is that the mosque must be sealed.

“The State is of the opinion that the Burin Council must seal the mosque,” the State informed the Court.

Fischer noted during Monday’s hearing that “in the parallel case of a synagogue in the community of El-Matan, which was built in a place that has an outline for a public building, the court issued an order to seal it at the State’s request and so it was. Why is it that when it comes to a synagogue we seal and when it comes to a mosque the State does not do anything about it? It cannot be that the court issues a temporary order against construction, the Palestinians ignore it and the State does not do anything about it, but when it comes to Jews it automatically goes to the court. Discrimination is a small word in comparison to what is really happening here.”

During the discussion, Attorney Tawfiq Jabarin, who represented the Council of Burin, got up and said that he also serves as one of the petitioners for demolition of houses, and began to speak of illegal Jewish construction in Judea and Samaria. Before he could speak, the judge interrupted him and scolded him for playing a double game, on the one hand petitioning against the illegal construction of Jewish buildings and on the other hand protecting the illegal construction by Arabs.

“The synagogue was built on State land,” the judge said. “There has to be a balance. Every time the Palestinians build illegal structures there will be an appeal to demolish it, and the same will be true for the other side.”

Bezalel Smotrich of the Regavim movement said following the hearing, “We are noticing a trend by the Court to similarly treat Arab and Jewish illegal construction. Today it is hard not to notice the intolerable discrimination between the petitions of the Jews and the petitions of the Arabs, and I am pleased that the High Court understands that this discrimination cannot go on. I trust that the judges will be able to judge in such a way that there is no discrimination before the law. Everyone is equal.”