Adalah to AG: Cancel Wine and Beer Festival in Front of Big Mosque in Beer el-Sabe


(Beer el-Sabe, Israel) On 9 August 2012, Adalah sent a legal letter to the Israeli Attorney General, the Minister of Culture and Sports, and the Municipality of Beer el-Sabe (Beer Sheva) demanding that they intervene and cancel the 6th Annual “Salut Wine and Beer Festival” due to take place in the courtyard of the Big Mosque in Beer el-Sabe. Adalah requested that all activity that violates the sanctity of the mosque, as well as the dignity of the thousands of Muslims who live in Beer el-Sabe and the tens of thousands who come to the city daily, be stopped immediately. Adalah Attorney Aram Mahameed sent the letter.

The letter pointed out that it was recently announced that the Wine Festival will take place 5-6 September 2012. The festival will feature alcoholic beverages from about 30 breweries and wineries from around the country, in addition to imports. It will also include a number of musical performances.
“This is a sensitive issue that endangers the interests of all Arab citizens of the state,” Attorney Mahameed emphasized in the letter. “The use of the courtyard of the Mosque for drinking alcohol is a red line banned in Islam, and is completely incompatible with the mosque’s intended use for prayer.”

The letter adds that the Wine Festival, along with other ongoing events, flagrantly violate the Israeli Supreme Court’s decision, issued in June 2011, ordering the mosque to be turned into a museum of Islamic history and culture (HCJ 7311/02, The Association for Support and Defense of Bedouin Rights in Israel, et al. v. The Municipality of Beer Sheva, et al. (decision delivered 22 June 2011)). The court’s decision followed Adalah’s petition filed in 2002, requesting that the mosque be reopened for prayer. In that case, Adalah represented the Association for Defense of the Bedouin in Israel and the Islamic Committee in the Naqab (Negev), in addition to 23 residents in and around the city of Beer el-Sabe. Former Adalah Attorneys Morad El Sana and Adel Badeer represented the petitioners.

Notably, far from being used as a museum of Islamic culture, the Beer el-Sabe Municipality uses the Big Mosque to host an exhibition commemorating public buildings and institutions in the city from the British colonial era until the present. A film is also shown as part of the exhibit on the history of Beer el-Sabe; the film does not include a word on Arab history in the city.

The Bigt Mosque was built during the Ottoman Era in 1906. It was open for prayer until 1948, when it was turned into a prison and later a courthouseuntil 1952. From 1953 until 1991, it was opened as a “Museum of the Negev,” and then stood empty and neglected from 1991. The struggle to restore the mosque to a house of prayer has been ongoing since the 1970s. However, despite the court’s judgment, the Municipality has announced its intention to use the building as a general museum, preventing Muslims from having a centralized place of worship in Beer el-Sabe.