Wine festival near mosque site in Israel angers Muslims

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Muslim groups expressed outrage on Thursday over plans to hold a wine festival in the Israeli city of Beer el-Sabe, which is due to take place next month in a courtyard outside a building formerly used as a mosque.

The southern branch of the Islamic Movement in Israel has said the festival constitutes an “unforgiveable sin” and is “a harsh blow to Muslim sensitivities,” according to Israeli media reports.

Islam prohibits the consumption of alcohol.

The Islamic Movement, (also known as the Islamic Movement in 48 Palestine) is a movement aiming to advocate Islam among Israeli Arabs and does not accept the existence of Israel. The group said that even the publicity for the wine festival is an insult to Muslim sensitivities.

The 6th Annual “Salut Wine and Beer Festival” to be held in Beer el-Sabe (Beer Sheva) on the 5-6 September 2012 will feature alcoholic beverages from about 30 breweries and wineries from around the country, in addition to imports.

It will also include a number of musical performances, according to the Adalah organization, the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel.

On Thursday, Adalah announced it had sent a legal letter to the Israeli Attorney General, the Minister of Culture and Sports, and the Municipality of Beer el-Sabe demanding that they intervene and cancel the festival.

“This is a sensitive issue that endangers the interests of all Arab citizens of the state,” the organization’s attorney Adalah Attorney Aram Mahameed wrote in the letter.

“The use of the courtyard of the Mosque for drinking alcohol is a red line banned in Islam, and is completely incompatible with the mosque’s intended use for prayer.”

“The letter adds that the Wine Festival, along with other ongoing events, flagrantly violate the Israeli Supreme Court’s decision, issued in June 2011, ordering the mosque to be turned into a museum of Islamic history and culture,” Adalah’s statement reads.

In 2002, Adalah had petitioned that the mosque be reopened for prayer. It had been open for prayer until 1948, when it was turned into a prison and later a courthouse until 1952. From 1953 until 1991, it was opened as a “Museum of the Negev,” and then stood empty and neglected from 1991.

The mosque was built during the Ottoman Era in 1906.