On the 5th of February 2003, the Israeli Interior Ministry destroyed a mosque in the unrecognised Negev village of Tel Al-Mileh. The mosque was approximately 150 square metres, and had been built at a cost of over 100,000 shekels raised by subscriptions from the villagers, and supported by the Negev Institute for Lands and People. It was the only place of worship in the village, and was built after years of public pressure.
The village of Tel Al-Mileh is not legally recognised by the Israeli government, so all of the houses and buildings for its 3,000 inhabitants are termed ‘illegal’. In the Negev region of Israel there are 70,000 Bedouin citizens of the state who live in these ‘illegal’ villages, which are present on maps that pre-date the state of Israel’s establishment in 1948, and which are called ‘unrecognised villages’.
The destruction of a place of worship is in direct contravention of the international human rights standards which Israel has ratified. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (CCPR) was ratified by Israel on the 3rd of October 1991, and it states:
“Everyone shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. This right shall include freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his choice, and freedom, either individually or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in worship, observance, practice and teaching.” Article 18.
“The concept of worship extends to ritual and ceremonial acts giving direct expression to belief, as well as various practices integral to such acts, including the building of places of worship…” CCPR General Comment on Implementation, Note 4.
The Arab Association for Human Rights is particularly concerned by the manner in which this demolition took place. It was carried out at 6am on the morning of the 5th, a time when all the men of the village had left for work, and those remaining were children, women, and elderly people. Furthermore, the demolition was carried out by bulldozers and overseen by a very large force of military police and special units.
The Israeli state used a high level of force against its own citizens, and demolished a place of worship that the Bedouin in the Negev have a right to build and use, a right which is enshrined in an international covenant which Israel has signed and ratified.
The Arab Association for Human Rights and The Regional Council for the Unrecognized Villages in the Negev are deeply concerned by this new development. The president of the Regional Council, Jabber Abu Kaff, stated that:
“This act runs contrary to all international treaties which uphold the right to freedom of religion …Since its establishment, the State has continued to demolish private homes under the pretext that they are unlicensed buildings, despite the fact that it is impossible for them to get a building permit. This we have endured; but the demolition of houses of God is a dangerous precedent, and the state must check itself before continuing down this path, which violates the dignity of Muslims, humanity and religions.”
Doctor ‘Awad Abu Farah, the president of the Negev Institute for Land and People, stated that the villagers ha
d already begun the work of re-building the mosque. Today, Friday 7th February, the village will hold communal prayers on the site attended by many hundreds of worshippers from across the Negev and beyond. The mosque will be re-opened for the Muslim holiday of ‘Aid Al Adha on the 12th of this month. Doctor ‘Awad Abu Farah affirmed that prayer is a fundamental basic human right.
The Arab Association for Human Rights and The Regional Council for the Unrecognized Villages in the Negev further note with grave concern that this symbolic destruction of a place of worship comes only a few weeks after the Israeli government announced a $1.7 billion plan to clear all the Bedouin of the unrecognised villages off their lands with a combination of military police and legal measures.
We would like to ask you to protest this escalation of the Israeli government’s attempts to remove the Bedouin of the Negev from their lands. Please consult the Regional Council website at www.arabhra.org/rcuv/index.htm and write to the Prime Minister at:
Mr Ariel Sharon. Prime Minister’s Office. 3 Kaplan St. P.O.B. 187, Kiryat Ben-Gurion, Jerusalem 91919
Fax: 972-2-6512631. Website: http://www.pmo.gov.il . E-mail: email@example.com