Print this page

Refugee Properties:Protection of PalestinianReligious Properties

Refugee Properties:Protection of PalestinianReligious Properties

At the end of April, the Israeli Supreme Court ruled in response to a petition filed by Adalah - The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, that the Religious Affairs Ministry must allocate funds equally for cemeteries of all faiths. The Court refrained from granting Adalah's request to cancel the discriminatory paragraphs of the 1999 Budget law. Of the NIS 17 million allocated under the Budget Law for cemeteries in Israel, nearly all went to the Jewish sector.

 Of the 313 large mosques in pre-1948 Palestine, 200 mosques or religious buildings fell within the area that became Israel.1 During the 1948 war and after many small cemeteries,  shrines and mosques located in Palestinian villages were destroyed, although recommendations were made by the Religious Affairs Ministry for the preservation of more prominent Muslim holy places.2 Most cemeteries in the places of origin of the refugees remain in poor condition.

 During the "Return Visit" to the villages of origin on the anniversary of the Nakba (see page 18f) for example, refugees found the mosque in Zakariyya filled with garbage while the mosque in Bayt Jibrin appeared to have been used as a livestock shelter. A joint study by the institute for Palestine studies, the Galilee Center for Social Research, and Birzeit University in the early 1990s , also found some 25 mosques, six of whom had been converted. This included the mosque in Wadi Hunayn, which has been converted into a synagogue.

In the Gaza sub-district, mosques in Hiribya and in Kawfakha are used, respectively, as a warehouse and a stable. The mosque in al- Manshiyya in the Acre sub-district is being used as a private residence, while the mosque in al-Zib has been restored for tourism. In the Haifa subdistrict, the mosque in 'Ain Hawd is used as arestaurant. In Jaffa, the al-Wihda mosque wasconverted into a synagogue, the al-Siksik mosque into a Bulgarian restaurant and nightclub, and the al-Nuzha mosque is abandoned and has been used for prostitution.3 According to Israeli researcher, Meron Benvenisti, some 140 mosques were abandoned in 1948 and 100 completely demolished along with the villages.

Of those remaining, 20 are in decay, 6 being used as living quarters, sheep pens, carpentry shops, sheep pens or storehouses, 6 are being used a museums, bars or tourist sites, 4  are used as synagogues, and 2 renovated for Muslim worship, but use is prohibited or restricted.
4 In addition there are vestiges of some 40 cemeteries from before 1948.5

Some of the cemeteries have been converted into  laygrounds and recreational areas. Over the last several years many tombs have been damaged or converted into Jewish holy sites by settler organizations.6 In some cases, cemeteries have been leveled for new residential and commercial development. The Hilton hotel in Tel Aviv, for example, sits on the site of the Abu Nabi cemetery in Jaffa. In other cases, Palestinians have been denied the right to maintain old cemeteries inside Israel.7 The Supreme Court ruling came at a time when it was reported that the old cemetery in the western Jerusalem Palestinian village of 'Ain Karim, that was depopulated in 1948, was being rezoned for residential construction.

1. Khayat, H. "Waqfs in Palestine and Israel - From the Ottoman Reforms to the Present," Ph.D diss., The American University, Washington, DC, 1962., cited in Dumper, p. 28.
2. Michael Dumper, Islam and Israel, Muslim Religious Endowments and the Jewish State, Washington, DC: Institute for Palestine Studies, 1994, p. 35
3. Dumper, p. 55
4. Meron Benvenisti, Sacred Landscape, Berkeley: University of California Press, 2000, pp. 288-290
5. Benvenisti, pp. 296-299
6. Ha’aretz, 11 February 2000)
7. See for example, Ha’aretz, 1 March 1999