Image: Israeli Arab youths hold green Islamic flags
Tsafrir Abayov  /  AP
Israeli Arab youths, holding green Islamic flags, stand on the rubble of a mosque, demolished by the Israeli police, in the Bedouin city of Rahat, southern Israel, on Sunday.
By
updated 11/7/2010 9:42:59 AM ET 2010-11-07T14:42:59

Israeli police demolished an illegally built mosque in this impoverished Arab city on Sunday, touching off rock-throwing protests by residents and fueling new grievances for the country's Arab minority against the government.

Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said the two-story mosque in the southern Israeli city of Rahat was knocked down under a court ruling. Before dawn, police armed with clubs and shields surrounded the area as a bulldozer knocked down the mosque.

Arab residents shouted in protest and conducted their prayers close to the site in defiance. Later, some protesters hurled rocks at police, Rosenfeld said. Five people were arrested; there were no injuries.

    1. Castaway's parents thought they would never see him again

      The father of Pacific castaway Jose Salvador Alvarenga said he was told his long-lost son vanished on a fishing trip but he didn’t have the heart to break the news to his ailing wife.

    2. Scotland legalizes same-sex marriage
    3. Weapons deal strengthened Assad: US intel chief
    4. Outcry over the fate of Sochi's stray dogs
    5. Olympic construction leaves Sochi residents in the cold

Hours after the mosque was demolished, residents began pouring cement to build the foundations for a new mosque on a nearby plot.

"They demolished it and we are rebuilding," said Fayiz Abu Sahiban, Rahat's mayor. He said the municipality tried to retroactively obtain a building permit, and noted that most of Rahat's 13 other mosques were built illegally.

The move is likely to further sour relations between Israel's Jews and minority Arab community, which makes up one-fifth of the country's seven million citizens. Although Israeli Arabs have full citizenship rights and participate actively in Israel's democracy, they have suffered pervasive discrimination and tend to identify with their Palestinian brethren in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Rahat is a fairly unique case of a town dominated by Bedouins — once nomadic Arab tribes who have their own dialects and customs. They once served in large numbers in Israel's military, but years of neglect over housing and employment have pushed many of them toward radical Muslim movements.

Relations between Jews and Arabs in Israel have already hit a worrying low as Jews increasingly question the loyalty of their Arab neighbors while jittery Arab residents fear they are being unfairly characterized as a threat from within.

A spokeswoman for the Israel Lands Administration said the destroyed mosque had been built on state-owned land without a permit. She spoke on condition of anonymity because she was not authorized to comment on the matter.

  1. Most popular

Rahat residents built the mosque illegally because Israeli authorities would take too long to approve it, Abu Sahiban said.

Illegal building is a pervasive problem among Israel's Arab minority, who say officials do not free up enough land for them to build legally.

Authorities rarely demolish mosques, but this particular house of worship was financed by Israel's northern branch of the Islamic Movement, radical Muslim Israeli group that is frequently in conflict with authorities.

Critics note that Israeli authorities have not yet acted on a court ruling to evacuate Jewish settlers from a building in disputed east Jerusalem that was illegally expanded.

___

Associated Press writer Diaa Hadid contributed to this report from Jerusalem.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Discuss:

Discussion comments

,

Most active discussions

  1. votes comments
  2. votes comments
  3. votes comments
  4. votes comments