Identity, Israel, Justice

The real shande of knocking over the Bedouin eco-mosque

Eco-mosque in Wadi el Na'am
An urgent release from BUSTAN, one of the Israeli NGOs doing anti-poverty and environmental work in the Negev among Bedouin Israelis: The first environmentally-sustainable community center/mosque — a project of a Bedouin 9-year veteran of the IDF — is to be torn down TODAY by the Israeli authorities. Why? Read on.
An anedote from June ’08: Dr. Yaale Livnat of the Regional Council of Unrecognized Villages, spoke to a rare delegation of young American Jews at an unrecognized village not far from Wadi el Na’am. Many of the students on this particular trip had been Hillel volunteers in New Orleans after Katrina. Surveying the evidence of government neglect, corrugated aluminum and wood palette shacks, the rusty generators for heat and electricity, and the empty sandlot where participants played soccer with the Bedouin teenagers, they saw that, in their own words, “It’s the same thing.”
They’re exactly right. It boils down to this: racism. Very simple, ordinary, normal, unsurprising racism. CK over at Jewlicious wants to chalk it up to a bureaucratic “accident”. The photo caption reads, “Who exactly does this Mosque threaten? We’re knocking it down because… ?”
But those of us who’ve volunteered with the Bedouin and the NGOs which work on their behalf know the simple answer. The government is knocking it down because Bedouin who live in one place long enough approach gaining squatters’ rights. It refuses to build infrastructure because Arabs are second-class citizens. Or at least, they say, it’s the Jewish State, and Jews come first.
The Negev, government representatives claim, is the only space left for Jews to expand in Israel and the target of Ben-Gurion’s dream at that. Every inch of it needs to be saved for the Jews. And if you don’t believe me, watch Chaim Yavin’s ID Blues where he interviews a regional administrator, the guy who writes the demolition orders. And it’s not surprising, given our people’s relectance to admit that as a normal country (gasp) Israel has plenty racism to deal with.
Some people are claiming, “Oh how terrible that this mosque — and for shande, it’s an eco-mosque! — will be torn down!”
The biggest shanda is that every week, somewhere in the Negev, a house or village is knocked down. And only when it’s a freakin’ eco-project by a Bedouin who served 9 years in the IDF, do we give a shit. And still, that the mainstream Jewish press doesn’t cover it at all. If this ain’t racism, I don’t know what is. That’s the shande.
It’s not just shame on Israel — shame on the Jews.
At the time this gets posted, it will likely be too late to do anything. Demolitions are postponed, but they’re almost never recinded. Despite that, BUSTAN’s call for an intervention and the emails of the authorities in charge are below the fold.

An eco-built mosque (the first in Israel) is slated for demolition in the unrecognized village of Wadi el Na’am. This village is one of the worst places I’ve ever seen on earth – surrounded 360 degrees by heavy military and industrial infrastructure, many of the citizens living there are sick, they receive no services and are ‘on hold’ to be relocated to a government-planned town for the past few years with no date in sight. This move requires them to relinquish all land claims, and many Bedouin are resistant, though not waging a non-violent struggle.
The Jews and Arabs that built this mosque are Israelis from BUSTAN, international volunteers, and a diverse mix of families from the village. We’re trying to stave the demolition – it is an inhumane way of forcing compliance and it seriously undermines work that many Jewish and Arab NGO’s are doing to build civil society in this dry, heavily contaminated, and extremely under-resourced part of the country.
BUSTAN calls for the Israeli government to negotiate with Bedouin leadership, these demolitions are a tactic employed by the Israel Land Administration must be resisted. It is undemocratic. Please forward to this appeal to your lists and HELP in any way you can, to stop the pending demolition. This is NOT a democratic policy.
November 17th, 2008
Wadi Na’am, Israel
The first mud and straw-bale built mosque in Israel received demolition orders late last week in the unrecognized Bedouin village of Wadi al Na’am, come help stop the demolition!
Volunteers are urgently needed starting this evening (Monday November 17th) to stay in the mosque through Thursday (November 20th) to protest and document any attempt to carry out the demolition.
To sign up for a shift, please email Tess at [email protected] or call her at 050-371-1802, OR Josh Berer, 052 7500152, RCUV.
If you can arrive with a car to bring people to and from Wadi Na’am that is extremely helpful. We will make every attempt to provide transportation for those who need it.
There are 80,000 Bedouin Arabs currently living in 45 unrecognized villages in Israel that lack basic infrastructure, health care, electricity, and water access. Local Bedouins as well as Christian, Muslim, and Jewish volunteers from Israel, the United States, Europe, Latin America, and Africa have contributed to building the mosque over the last four months.
For more information about the mosque, please see this article from August 2008 and this post.
If you cannot make it, please fax or call the following officials to protest the demolition:
Itzhak HaKohen, the Minister of Religious Service
Fax: 02 6706157. [email protected]

Meir Shitrit, the Minister of Interior
Fax: 02 6408920. [email protected]

Zeev Boim, the Minster of Housing and Construction, and Minister responsible for the Israeli Land Authority, and the Bedouin Minority.
Fax: 02-6496062. [email protected]

For press inquiries:
Mahmod Jarbeau at 057-466-2331 (Hebrew, Arabic) —resident of Wadi Na’am, served nine years in the Israeli military, director of the project Ra’ed Al Mickawi 052-371-1801 (Hebrew, Arabic, English)—Director of BUSTAN
Dr. Yeela Livnat Ra’anan 054-748-7005 (English, Hebrew)—RCUV
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13 thoughts on “The real shande of knocking over the Bedouin eco-mosque

  1. You know… I’d say something. But I won’t. What’s most important is that we raise a hue and cry whenever confronted with anything this patently idiotic and unjust. I was trying to frame my post in a way that would unite rather than divide. Your post however… well, you know what you did. You basically flipped me off. For the record, and you can confirm it with Dvorah and Raed over at Bustan, I have always made myself available to them and others when they reached out.
    My attitude has always been that we all breathe the same air and drink the same water and the environment does not discriminate based on ideology or race. Furthermore, if citizenship is to have any meaning in Israel, all citizens have to be treated equally.
    Way to diminish my efforts though. Good job. Hope you’re proud of yourself.

  2. Thank you, CK, for being a uniter. Seriously.
    This is an emotionally charged issue personally. I was out teaching English to Bedouin kids for weeks and I documented housing demolitions for months. But all that work goes unreported and is to date the largest gaping ignorance about Israel in the American Jewish community. Bureaucratic mistakes do not account for the thousands of demolition orders, the crop dusting with herbicide of meager farms(!), or the lack of public schools, clinics, et al. This isn’t a tree. It’s a forest.
    And I am rightly incensed — rightly, truly, justly — by the shattering difficulty in proposing to American Jews that race drives policy in Israel. It happens in America, yet it is difficult to understand that Israel is the same.
    And I’m not saying anything that isn’t being said by the Israeli community organizers who work on the issue. I just say it on a blog, where the rest of the world not able to tramp around a Bedouin camp can participate in the conversation.

  3. Thank you KFJ. I’m glad that you were able to sound a conciliatory tone in your response to me. I tried to express myself in a way that didn’t reflect the fact that despite my good intentions, I find myself getting chewed out by the right and the left and frankly, the self righteousness is starting to piss me off. But it’s all good. If the situation of the Bedouins has any chance of being ameliorated it’ll come as a result of finding common cause – focusing on what unites rather than what divides. this ought not be an ideological issue. Equality, Justice and Fairness are not the exclusive domain of any ideology. These are universal values that transcend all that.
    Shabat Shalom…

  4. bad ass bloggers – i want to thank each of you for taking the time and the energy to write compelling blogs about wadi el na’am. it is so important – and we’re really grateful…there’s an update from BUSTAN below.
    i also want to share a concern – we’re all organizer and writers. rather than focus on distracting critiques of the media as racist for not covering this issue, please work with us on a more productive front to help catalyze a beaming grassroots solidarity and use our connections and savvy to do what needs to get done – to elicit media to RECOGNIZE the Bedouin issue.
    BUSTAN knows how insane it is to get media attention to look at core issues – the coexistence and environmental-but-politically-neutral programs get the media attention, and the funding. for this reason it is extremely important to continue to probe causal root questions.
    so let’s continue to learn the issues from your posts and to gain a deep understanding that empowers us ALL to get more involved in direct action, rather than getting lost in the mire of jewschool vs. jewlicious style blogging. you have different styles – just as BUSTAN and the RCUV have very different styles of organizing, BUSTAN has always taken a more radical grassroots approach toward the same ends, and the RCUV works with municipalities and politicians to get their goals achieved ~ yet we’ve found ways of moving beyond our earlier years flogging self-righteous critique of means at each other that trumped our successful ability to achieve mutual ends. we absolutely need your help to present cogent arguments about the VITAL issues, to rally a groundswell.
    thanks again. blessings for a peaceful shabbat.
    On Fri, Nov 21, 2008 at 8:32 AM, BUSTAN wrote:
    Hebrew Below
    The Continuing Story of the Eco-Mosque of Wadi Na’am
    We want to give you a quick update on the status of the mosque at Wadi Na’am.
    As many of you know, the mosque, located in the unrecognized Bedouin village of Wadi Na’am, built along ecological principles, mostly of straw bale and mud, first received a potential demolition order in August, and then a demolition action order last week.
    BUSTAN and the RCUV were able to mobilize, at very short notice, a significant number of Jewish and Arab Israeli activists as well as international volunteers to spend several nights and days at the mosque to provide it some measure of protection.
    On Thursday morning, policemen appeared, signaling the beginning of the demolition process.
    Mahmoud negotiates with police as activists stand in solidarity at the mosque
    We will never know exactly why, but the demolition did not proceed. Whether it was the many letters and faxes that were sent to the authorities, the presence of the activists, or the presence of the press, the demolition did not go through!
    This is a victory, and an indication that if we continue to organize and bring attention to this practice that it becomes harder to carry it out. It also buys Mahmoud Jarbeau, the builder of the mosque, more time to pursue legal options to save it.
    This does not mean that we have won, however. There is a high probability that the Israeli government will return next week, probably in the very early morning hours with no notice, and carry out the demolition at a time when there are not witnesses to document and protest.
    What you can do:
    –if you can volunteer to spend nights in the mosque in the next week, please email [email protected] .
    –please continue to send letters and faxes of protest to the authorities!
    Itzhak HaKohen, the Minister of Religious Service
    Fax: 02 6706157. [email protected]
    Meir Shitrit, the Minister of Interior
    Fax: 02 6408920. [email protected]
    Zeev Boim, the Minster of Housing and Construction, and Minister responsible for the Israeli Land Authority, and the Bedouin Minority.
    Fax: 02-6496062. [email protected]
    Here are two good sample paragraphs to use in your letters:
    I am writing to express my strong concern at the news of the proposed
    destruction of the Mosque in the village of Wadi el Na’am.
    If Israel is to live up to its promised potential as a bastion of
    human rights and tolerance in a world of persecution and greed, it
    must commit to true democracy. In a democracy, citizens are engaged in
    decisions about the use of the land on which they live. With no such
    process in place for the people of Wadi el Na’am, I adamantly oppose
    the demolition of this Mosque. As stewards of the public interest, I
    trust you will take all necessary action to ensure that Wadi el Na’am
    residents are given the rights and respect inherent in their Israeli
    For press inquiries:
    Mahmod Jarbeau at 057-466-2331 (Hebrew, Arabic) —resident of Wadi Na’am, served nine years in the Israeli military, director of the project
    Ra’ed Al Mickawi 052-371-1801 (Hebrew, Arabic, English)—Director of BUSTAN
    Dr. Yeela Livnat Ra’anan 054-748-7005 (English, Hebrew)—RCUV

  5. On behalf of all my friends in the Bedouin communities of the Negev, for posting this and to all who responded, and all who offered to actually (yeegads!) travel to the Negev to help out.
    Consider this: there are about as many Negev Bedouin as there are Ethiopian Jews in Israel, about 120K each. It’s interesting to compare and contrast how these two populations are treated and faring in Israel. I invite everyone to get more informed about these issues. More than ever, if democracy is to survive in Israel, it’s going to need our help and experience especially in areas of civil and minority rights. Bustan and NISPED are especially good places to start.

  6. I am extremely sad to report that Thursday, November 25th at five o’clock AM Israeli forces arrived at the mosque and razed it to the ground. The builder and director of the project, Mahmoud Jarbeau, was sleeping in the mosque when he heard the rumble of bulldozers, and awoke to find a demolition team at his door.
    You can look at pictures of what is left at:
    We are rebuilding it, starting immediately, and God Willing it will serve as a testament to the will of the people to persevere in the face of enormous adversity.

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