Bedouin, Arab MKs criticize planned Beersheba wine festival

Event to take place in mosque-turned-museum courtyard; municipality rejects opposition to fete, now in its sixth year

Aaron Kalman is a former writer and breaking news editor for the Times of Israel

Beersheba's great mosque (photo credit: CC-BY ~Ori/Wikipedia)
Beersheba's great mosque (photo credit: CC-BY ~Ori/Wikipedia)

Bedouin and Muslim leaders from the Negev joined forces with Arab MKs to protest a planned wine festival in Beersheba, set to take place in the courtyard of the city’s great mosque. The municipality rejected the criticism, and said it was strange that the festival had become an issue in its sixth year.

A call for the Arab population to join the protest, set to take place next week, was issued by the High Follow-Up Committee for Arab Citizens of Israel during the weekend, Haaretz reported on Monday.

MK Taleb el-Sana (Ra’am-Ta’al) told the Hebrew daily he blamed the Beersheba Municipality for “ongoing crimes against the Bedouin population.” He said they were forbidden to pray at their holy site and that their religious rights were being trampled on. The mosque was converted into a museum in the mid-1950s.

Sana said it was a “poor choice” to hold a festival celebrating an alcoholic beverage that is prohibited to practicing Muslims in a mosque, even one that no longer hosts religious services. The decision, he said, could spark riots throughout the southern part of Israel. The wine festival in the mosque “will take place over our dead bodies,” he said.

MK Jamal Zahalke (Balad) called the plan “barbaric.” It “offends the feelings of all Muslims, especially the Bedouin,” he told Haaretz.

The committee said allowing the wine festival to take place would open the door for other events that would harm other deserted mosques throughout the country. “We say ‘no’ to hurting our feelings and dignity,” the letter read.

The writers said they believed security forces would monitor their response, which is why “our response must be an earth-shattering one in which we cry out against damaging the sanctity of mosques.”

The municipality said in response that it was unclear why there was an uproar. “The festival is held in the area near the mosque,” the statement said. “The wine festival has become a tradition and is being held for the sixth year. In all the previous times the event took place without disruption or complaint.”

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