The Higher Steering Committee of the Arabs of the Negev has denounced the Israeli-controlled Beersheba Municipality's decision to hold a concert in the city's Great Mosque built more than 100 years ago by the Ottomans as a place of worship and a resting station for merchants.
"After the British entered Palestine, Muslims continued to pray [in the mosque] until the year of the Nakba , and when Beersheba fell, it was used as a prison by the Zionists and then as a public museum," explained the committee. "In 2002, the Beersheba Municipality decided to hold a liquor festival in the mosque's courtyards with the participation of more than 30 wine producers which led to protests by local residents and the festival was subsequently cancelled."
According to the Palestinians, in 2011, after a long legal battle with the Beersheba Municipality that went as far as the Supreme Court, the latter proposed to transform the mosque into a special museum for the culture of Islam and Eastern peoples. This is still its official status. Today, in the prevailing right-wing political atmosphere, the municipality has decided to hold a concert in the mosque's courtyards.
"The Beersheba Mosque is a purely Islamic endowment property which belongs to Muslims who are the original inhabitants of this country," insisted the committee. "It must be returned to them only, and accordingly we demand an immediate end to the violations of the sanctity of the mosque and its surroundings, and for Muslims to be allowed to pray within it, not least because the right to practise one's religion is a fundamental right guaranteed by international law."