Police, Bedouin Clash as State Demolishes Condemned Negev Mosque

Rahat mosque, which police say was funded by the Islamic Movement's Northern Branch, had been marked for demolition as a result of it being illegally constructed; residents begin rebuilding demolished mosque Sunday.

Riots broke out at the Bedouin city of Rahat late Saturday night as a massive evacuation force arrived at the Negev town and demolished a condemned city mosque.

Eliyahu Hershkovitz

Police sources said the mosque had been marked for demolition months ago as a result of it being illegally constructed, adding that the structur's construction was funded by the Islamic Movement's Northern Branch during the Gaza war, in late 2008 and early 2009.

A massive evacuation force, comprising over 5,000 policemen, tractors, and ambulances, descended on the town late Saturday, with initial reports claiming riots broke out between police and thousands of locals.

Thousands of the city's residents reportedly hurled stones at the police officers securing the demolition, with police returning tear gas fire. A few protestors were arrested.

Police forces then moved to demolish the structure as soon as the mosque had been emptied of scripture and ritual objects.

An order for the mosque's demolition was issued by the southern district's planning committee in April of this year, with the Be'er Sheva District Court rejecting an appeal against the decision three months later.

According to Rahat mayor Faiz Abu Sahiban claimed the act was a direct offense against all Muslims, saying that 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."

The Rahat municipality decaled a general strike in wake of the demolition.

Israel Police released a statement following the demolition, saying its actions demonstrated the police "would not turn a blind eye and would protect the rule of law, all the while acting with the utmost consideration of Muslim sentiment."

Rahat residents on Sunday began rebuilding the demolisehed mosque.

"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.

"No 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."

Abu Jam'a added that the mosque was built to deter drug dealing activity that took place in the area.

Rahat, situated just north of Be'er Sheva, is the Negev's only Bedouin city, with over 52,000 residents.