A mosque left to die

22:17 Feb 18 2013 Ma'alul, 6 km west of Nazareth

A mosque wall collapsed in the deserted Palestinian village Ma’alul two winters ago, and when the descendants of the village’s former inhabitants rushed to repair the damage, they were prevented from continuing with their work.

By Oudeh Bashara, Opinion piece for Haaretz

This past week the rains returned and flowed into the spring of the deserted Palestinian village of Ma’alul. The welcome winter rain fell on everyone, without respect to religion, nationality or race. It revealed a touching natural phenomenon − one of deep waters overflowing, despite the Mekorot water company’s intimidating pumps, in a place where water has spilled since time immemorial. How did the Iraqi poet Mudhaffar al-Nawab put it? “The river is always faithful to its course.”

However, as nature reverted to its original course, it did not treat the old, ancient mosque of Ma’alul well. The mosque’s wall collapsed two winters ago, and when the descendants of the village’s former inhabitants rushed to repair the damage, they were prevented from continuing with their work. A police file was even opened against Ali As-Salih, the chairman of the Ma’alul Heritage Association.

Thousands of miles away, ISCAR Metalworking founder and Israeli tycoon Stef Wertheimer embarked a trip to rediscover his roots in Kippenheim, Germany. As he explains in his book “Ish L’yad Mekhona” ‏(“Man at a Machine”‏), he found hometown’s synagogue had been turned into “grain storage for pigs.” It appears the synagogue was “sold” by a shady German Jewish community leader.

Later on, this “community leader” was brought to trial for defrauding the Jewish community out of millions. After a relentless 12-year struggle, and with the help of pressure generated by young Germans, “whose feelings of guilt apparently still motivated them,” the building was cleaned, renovated and registered as memorial site.

Unfortunately for the Ma’alul mosque, it is located in an area under the jurisdiction of the Jezreel Valley Regional Council. It was created out of thin air with 200,000 dunams of land that include, among other things, abandoned Palestinian villages like Ma’alul. The regional council also inherited the holy places on this land, but instead of preserving them, it prevents representatives of the legitimate heirs who live nearby from carrying out maintenance work.

Arabs well-schooled in suffering speak of this type of insensitivity: “The rock of the al-Haram does not forgive and in time precludes you from Allah’s mercy,” Palestinian writer Emile Habibi wrote, referring to this “treacherous time.”

Who is bothered by an isolated mosque on the side of the road? Well, a mosque needs an imam, and an imam needs worshippers from the community. And when there is no community and no imam for the mosque − and no priest for the two churches also in Ma’alul − it is sad indeed, even if the pastoral scenery is thick with vegetation. This is the power of abandoned churches, mosques and synagogues in an empty forest. They attest to the fact that something foul is going on.

About three years ago, at the request of Haaretz, I wrote about my first journey, as a child, to Ma’alul after the Nakba in 1948. I recalled that we walked in between many stones along the way. But these stones disappeared on subsequent visits, and I thought then that they had been the fruit of a child’s fertile imagination. But when I was preparing that essay I returned to Ma’alul and investigated. To my surprise, I discovered the rocks were still in the same place, just covered by thick vegetation.

I wrote then that nature is man’s friend in his attempt to erase the past. But recently, when I read Meron Benvenisti’s book “Halom Hatzabar Halavan” ‏(“Dream of the White Sabra”‏), I became aware of nature’s innocence. Benvenisti explains in his book that this wasn’t happenstance, but a deliberate technique. He recounts that Umm az-Zinat was “a completely destroyed village where the remaining building stones were dispersed among the forest’s trees, which were planted to hide the ruins.”

Well then, here is another injured Omar Abu Jariban left to die on the side of the road, perched atop the mountain. Everyone knows that if nothing is done, he’s a goner. And when it happens, it’s up to you, good Jews and good Arabs, to bring your complaints to the two policemen who abandoned him − for they are also part of this absurd play.

Incidentally, Wertheimer recounts how he was offered “an abandoned Arab home” but refused it. I loved him for this because he showed that, even in the midst of hell, it’s possible to preserve one’s humanity.
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