Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, November 2008, pages 51-52

Human Rights

Mosque Demolition in Israel

  • Joining together to build a mud and straw-bale mosque were a Jewish youth group from Britain, Israeli teenagers, Go Eco volunteers with Bustan, Bedouin children and adults, as well as volunteers from many religious backgrounds and countries (Photos by Gily Nadan and Ra’ed Al-Mickawi, Courtesy Bustan).

THE FIRST mud and straw-bale built mosque in Israel received demolition orders on Aug. 21, 2008 in the “unrecognized” bedouin village of Wadi al Na’am. Mud and straw-bale building is a sustainable method of building, and the mosque was set to be the biggest building of this kind in Israel.

The project began three months earlier under the direction of Mahmoud Jarbea, a local bedouin sheikh who grew up in Wadi al Na’am and served in the Israeli army for nine years. Local bedouins, Israeli teenagers, as well as Christian, Muslim and Jewish volunteers from the United States, Europe, Latin America and Africa had built a steel frame and lined it with straw bales for insulation. The first coat of mud was almost completed when the demolition orders arrived. The community hopes to finish the mosque by winter, assuming it is not demolished before it can be completed.

Seven thousand years ago, well before the establishment of the Israeli state, the bedouins first began settling in the Negev Desert. They lived a semi-nomadic lifestyle until the Israeli government removed them “temporarily” to the northeastern Negev and restricted them to Siyag (which means fence in Arabic and which resembles an Native American reservation). The Siyag is a triangular region between Arad, Dimona and Beersheba. Since Israel considers this area state land, its bedouin residents are unable to legally own the land on which they live, even though their “temporary” removal has lasted more than 60 years.

Approximately 160,000 bedouins in the Negev live in a combination of “unrecognized” villages and “recognized” townships. In the 36 unrecognized villages where approximately half the bedouin live, the residents live in conditions vastly inferior to those enjoyed by Jewish Israeli citizens. Because Israel will not issue building permits to anyone building in unrecognized villages, bedouin are not allowed to build permanent structures. They have no running water, sewage service or electrical connections, and their roads, healthcare and education are severely limited.

The same day the demolition order for the mosque was delivered, Mahmoud Jarbea, whose family has been living in the Negev since before 1948, also received a demolition order for his sheep pen. The industrial complex of Ramat Hovav, across the street from his sheep pen, sits on their former lands.

Recently, Jarbea decided to build a mosque for his community. Khalid Al-Ubra, who currently is taking the permaculture course offered by Bustan (Sustainable Community Action for Land and People), then got involved in the project and proposed using the sustainable mud and straw-bale construction method.

Jarbea said he hopes that when it is completed, the mosque will serve as an example of sustainable construction for the village. Currently, most homes are built from tin, primarily because of the ease and speed of building with this material, especially since the community is constantly faced with demolitions. However, tin homes provide no insulation from high temperatures in the summer and low temperatures in the winter. The mud and straw-bale method of building, on the other hand, is an excellent insulator. Additionally, it uses locally available sustainable materials.

The demolition order means that the Israeli government plans to destroy the structure any time it chooses to. The demolition crew may come with their trucks and bulldozers in a matter of hours or of years. The community’s reaction to the demolition notice was surprising. Not only did the building of the mosque continue as if it would survive for many years to come, but some of the volunteers leapt into action to protect this mosque the best they could.

For more information, or to see how you can help, please visit <www.bustan.org> or contact Mahmoud Jarbeau at 011 972-57-466-2331 (Hebrew, Arabic); Raed Al-Mickawi at <[email protected]> 972-52-371-1800 (Hebrew, Arabic); Carlos Diaz-Mateu at <[email protected]> (Spanish, Portuguese, Catalan); Victor Gorgels at <[email protected]> (German, Dutch); Dana Lazarus at <[email protected]> (English); Gily Nadan at <[email protected]> (English, Spanish, French); or Lisa Schindler at <[email protected]> (English).

Dana Lazarus and Lisa Schindler

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