Knesset to decide on bill to preserve Muslim holy sites

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Last update - 08:30 26/12/2007

Knesset to decide on bill to preserve
Muslim holy sites
By
Yoav Stern
, Haaretz Correspondent


A bill to establish an authority responsible for preserving Muslim
holy sites, for the first time since the creation of the state, will soon be
brought before the Knesset.

The bill enjoys significant support from Jewish religious figures,
including Chief Sephardi Rabbi Shlomo Amar.

According to the bill, the state would allocate NIS 8 million annually
for the preservation of mosques and cemeteries that were abandoned
in 1948.

The bill's sponsor, MK Michael Melchior (Labor), told Haaretz
yesterday that in his opinion, this is the state's duty, as a Jewish state
must care for the holy sites of Muslims.

"As an Israeli rabbi, and one who often deals with the standing of
Jews abroad, I cannot tolerate what is happening here," Melchior said.
"We must correct this, as is right for a democracy and in line with
Jewish values."

It is not clear whether Melchior will manage to rally the support of
his coalition colleagues. However, he has gained the support of many
influential rabbis.

The bill was prepared by the Citizens' Accord Forum, a
nongovernmental organization founded by Melchior that strives to
bring Jews and Muslims closer. The proposal will be presented during
the organization's annual conference in Jaffa.

Dr. Yitzhak Reiter of Hebrew University's Truman Institute, one of
the bill's authors, prepared a list of a dozen sites that would benefit
from reconstruction work. Among them are Dahr al-Omar, a mosque
in the center of Tiberias; Masjad al-Basa, near Shlomi in the north;
and Sidna Ali, near Herzliya.

MK Ibrahim Sarsur (Ra'am-Ta'al), the head of the Islamic
Movement's southern branch, said that the preservation and
rehabilitation of sites holy to Muslims should be gradual.

"We are realistic and rational, and we are not seeking to frighten the
public," he said. "The reality today is different from that prior to
1948, and we are want to be fair. It is time that the matter be dealt
with in a humanistic-religious spirit."

Following Israel's establishment, most Christian holy sites remained
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under the control of the churches. Sites belonging to the Waqf
(Muslim religious endowment) came under the control of the
Custodian of Abandoned Properties. In many cases, cemeteries went
untended because residents of their villages had fled to nearby
countries.

In 1950, the state confiscated many of the abandoned properties,
including those belonging to the Waqf. Later, some mosques and
other structures came into private hands.

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