Demanding Legal Recognition for Muslim Holy Sites in Israel in Name of Muslim Religious Leaders.

HCJ 10532/04, Sheikh Abdullah Nimr Darwish, et. al. v. Minister of Religious Affairs, et. al.

Petition filed in 11/04 by Adalah on behalf of Muslims leaders in Israel, and the Al-Aqsa Association for the Preservation of Waqf Property, against the Minister of Religious Affairs, the Minister of Justice and the Prime Minister, demanding that the Court issue an order compelling the Minister of Religious Affairs to issue regulations for the protection of Muslim holy sites in Israel, following consultation with Muslim religious leaders, as has been done for Jewish holy sites. The Protection of Holy Sites Law - 1967, aims to safeguard and preserve sacred places from desecration, from anything which could obstruct access to these places by followers of religious traditions, or could offend their religious sensitivities. The Minister of Religious Affairs is responsible for its implementation, including the promulgation of regulations for this purpose. The law requires the Minister to regulate holy sites in general, not selectively on the basis of religious grouping. Thus far, however, the Minister has only issued regulations for Jewish holy sites. Approximately 120 places have been declared as holy sites, all of which are Jewish. The law, and the Penal Law (1977), stipulate criminal sanctions of imprisonment for the violation of a holy site.

The petitioners argued the Minister of Religious Affairs has used his powers in a discriminatory manner by setting forth regulations which exclusively specify Jewish holy places. The result of this discrimination is the neglect and desecration of Muslim holy sites in Israel: many mosques and holy sites have been converted, for instance, into bars, night clubs, stores and restaurants. The petitioners argued that the Minister's failure to issue regulations for the protection of Muslim holy sites constitutes a breach of the Protection of Holy Sites Law, violates the principle of the rule of law, the principle of equality, and contravenes the principles of administrative law. Furthermore, failure to promulgate such regulations for Muslim holy sites results in discrimination in the designation of the budgets for holy sites, since items are designated in the budget for Jewish holy sites only, on the basis that no regulations exist specifying Muslim holy sites. The petitioners further argued that the non-recognition of Muslim holy sites unjustifiably disregards the religious and historical significance of these sites, which mars the dignity and offends the religious sensitivities of Arab Muslim citizens of the state. Moreover, some of these sites are also sacred for millions of Muslims outside of Israel.

Neglect of Muslim holy sites is a long-standing problem, which has been repeatedly brought to the attention of the government over many years. A special committee was established in accordance with a government decision from February 2000, with the task of investigating the condition of Arab holy sites. The committee, which finished its work in mid-2000, found that there are 53 Muslim holy sites and 58 abandoned Muslim cemeteries in Israel. The Ministry of Religious Affairs, however, did not implement the recommendations of the committee. The Supreme Court ordered the Attorney General's Office to respond to the petition within 60 days.

Update: In 3/07, there were 135 designated holy sites, increased from 120 at the time of the filing of the petition, all of which are Jewish.

H.C. 10532/04, Sheikh Abdullah Nimr Darwish, et. al. v. Minister of Religious Affairs, et. al. (case pending).