Restoration of Abandoned Mosque Creates Friction Between Moslems, Jews in Tel Aviv-jaffa

The renovation for commercial and cultural purposes of a mosque, unused and abandoned for over 30 years, has created tension between Moslems and Jews in Tel Aviv.

The Hassan Bek Mosque stands isolated, with part of its roof gone, in an open area on the seashore between here and Jaffa. It was from the mosque that Jaffa Arab snipers fired into southern Tel Aviv prior to 1948. The surrounding area was severely damaged in the War of Independence and all buildings in the vicinity were razed, except the mosque.

Its nearest neighbors are the Charles Clore park and the newly-opened dolphinarium on the seashore. The new Hyatt Hotel lies to the south and the Shalom Tower rises inland.

About six years ago a local contractor, Gershon Peres, brother of Labor Party chairman Shimon Peres, leased the structure from the local Wakf (Moslem Religious Trust) to renovate it for commercial purposes. But he never started work because permission had to be obtained from various planning bodies.

Meanwhile, the previous Wakf administration was ousted by a new group of local Moslem notables on the grounds of mismanagement and illegal dealings. Nearly a year ago they asked a court to cancel Peres’ contract but no verdict has been handed down.

The present Wakf chairman, Abed Kabub has appealed to Moslems throughout Israel to gather at the site next month to raise funds for renovation of the mosque for religious purposes although no Islamic community exists nearby.

The issue arose again following approval of Peres’ renovation plans by a Tel Aviv municipal town planning commission. It still has to be ratified by other planning committees. Tel Aviv Mayor Shlomo Lahat says he supports the Peres plan in principle, but with more emphasis on cultural than on commercial aspects. He complains that the building, abandoned for over 30 years with no Moslem leaders showing any interest in the structure until now, has become a public nuisance, used for drug trafficking, a garbage dump and a horse stable.

Lahat says that from the legal point of view, Peres has full rights to convert the structure into a commercial center which will serve local tourism. He said today that he would prefer it if local Arabs were to rehabilitate the Hassan Bek Mosque but would support efforts by Israeli businessmen to do the job if the alternative meant continued decay.

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