Saving the Straw Bale Mosque
On Monday morning my boss Ye’ela called me, telling me that the straw bale mosque I wrote about a few posts back was to be demolished this week, we didn’t know when, but they informed the owner, Mahmoud (he wants his last name withheld), that it would take place. So on Monday night I went out to the mosque in Wadi Naam and spent the night there with some other international people as a sit-in, in case they came in the morning. We were under strict instructions, both from Mahmoud and Ye’ela, that should they come we were not to chain ourselves to the doors, or lay in front of the bulldozers, or throw rocks, or hit the soldiers back when they hit us. We were simply to photograph and record the demolition, should it occur. Jewish Israelis, on the other hand, could sit in the mosque and refuse to leave, or lay in front of the bulldozers because they would just be arrested and released later that day, but we as foreigners would be deported for interfering with army operations.
They didn’t come Tuesday morning, and they didn’t come Wednesday. However, Mahmoud received word from the court that demolition was assured, and the bulldozers were going to be there on Thursday. So we kicked it into high gear and together with Bustan got as many people as could be there as we could, and planned a big sit in from Wednesday night to Thursday afternoon.
And plenty of people showed up! Haaretz, the Jerusalem Post, Channel 3 news, ActiveStills, the Associated Press all had representatives there, and there were quite a few volunteers and foreign types who showed up, and showing up is not easy, its a real schlep out there.
Around 9 two plain-clothes officers of the Shabak, the Israeli domestic security/intelligence agency, Negev division, showed up. They had a talk with Mahmoud and spoke for a while about what was going to happen. The details of the conversation we don’t, or may ever, know. In any case they saw all the people there, and were very aware of the fact that many people were taking their photograph. Afterwards Mahmoud left for Beer Sheva, he said he had to deal with some last details in the court.
Around 11, he called to tell us that one of his “eyes” had called him to say that a demolition team (100-200 soldiers, plus 20-30 paramilitary Green Patrol soldiers, a bulldozer, and military vehicles) had been spotted on the road. We all scrambled on our cell phones, but my co-worker Suleiman from the RCUV called us 15 minutes later to say that the team turned east, toward Arad, and that there was another demolition they were going to do near there, but don’t get comfortable because they usually do more than one when they come out.
Mahmoud told us to start working on the mosque, so that if they show up they’ll see that it is an international project and it really engages the community. So we mixed two types of dirt with straw and water, stomped around till it was all mixed in, and then started throwing it on the wall, literally. You take a small handful and throw it at the wall so it splats on, then you smooth all the splats out.
The demolition team never came.
This doesn’t mean we won. It means they didn’t want to destroy it in front of everyone, so they’ll probably come back next week and destroy it when no one’s there to document it. It won’t be a story because we’ve played our card and the press showed up, but they’re not going to schlep out there twice. Also, Mahmoud is going on pilgrimage to Mecca on Sunday, so he won’t even be around to let us know if they do show up.
All in all, it was a really interesting experience, and a lot of fun, to be honest. Obviously, I’m glad that they didn’t come, but very afraid that they’ll just show up one morning and knock it down.
Mahmoud is a pretty amazing guy. He’s 43 now, and was in the army for 9 years, 18-27, ending as an officer in the paratrooper corps, and serving two tours of combat duty in Lebanon. Ironically, the day he received notice that his mosque was to be destroyed, he had just gotten back from his reserve duty. He decided to build the mosque in May, and just started doing it. He’d never built a structure like this in his life, and at first he was the only person building it, the other villagers thought he was a little bit nuts for doing it, but once it started to take shape they really rallied around him, and a lot of them show up every day to volunteer and throw mud. Every penny that has gone into it has been from Mahmoud’s own pocket, and to this day its upwards of 140,000 shekels, or around 40,000 dollars.
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