Knesset to Decide on Proposal to Preserve Muslim Holy Sites

Proposed legislation receives backing from Jewish religious figures, including chief Sephardi rabbi.

Yoav Stern
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Yoav Stern

A bill to establish an authority responsible for preserving Muslim holy sites, for the first time since the creation of the state, will soon be brought before the Knesset.

The bill enjoys significant support from Jewish religious figures, including Chief Sephardi Rabbi Shlomo Amar.

According to the bill, the state would allocate NIS 8 million annually for the preservation of mosques and cemeteries that were abandoned in 1948.

The bill's sponsor, MK Michael Melchior (Labor), told Haaretz yesterday that in his opinion, this is the state's duty, as a Jewish state must care for the holy sites of Muslims.

"As an Israeli rabbi, and one who often deals with the standing of Jews abroad, I cannot tolerate what is happening here," Melchior said. "We must correct this, as is right for a democracy and in line with Jewish values."

It is not clear whether Melchior will manage to rally the support of his coalition colleagues. However, he has gained the support of many influential rabbis.

The bill was prepared by the Citizens' Accord Forum, a nongovernmental organization founded by Melchior that strives to bring Jews and Muslims closer. The proposal will be presented during the organization's annual conference in Jaffa.

Dr. Yitzhak Reiter of Hebrew University's Truman Institute, one of the bill's authors, prepared a list of a dozen sites that would benefit from reconstruction work. Among them are Dahr al-Omar, a mosque in the center of Tiberias; Masjad al-Basa, near Shlomi in the north; and Sidna Ali, near Herzliya.

MK Ibrahim Sarsur (Ra'am-Ta'al), the head of the Islamic Movement's southern branch, said that the preservation and rehabilitation of sites holy to Muslims should be gradual.

"We are realistic and rational, and we are not seeking to frighten the public," he said. "The reality today is different from that prior to 1948, and we are want to be fair. It is time that the matter be dealt with in a humanistic-religious spirit."

Following Israel's establishment, most Christian holy sites remained under the control of the churches. Sites belonging to the Waqf (Muslim religious endowment) came under the control of the Custodian of Abandoned Properties. In many cases, cemeteries went untended because residents of their villages had fled to nearby countries.

In 1950, the state confiscated many of the abandoned properties, including those belonging to the Waqf. Later, some mosques and other structures came into private hands.

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