On a visit to Beersheva we visited the old Turkish Mosque that is now a museum. It was built in 1906 as part of a Turkish attempt to solidify its hold on the region, then known as Southern Syria (no such thing as Palestine then). It was part of a three government building complex, that includes the Governor’s House (now the Museum of the Negev) and the Government House (now the Beersheva Police Station).
The Mosque is now the Museum of Islamic and Near Eastern Culture. It consists of an outer courtyard, that houses artifacts of Islamic history, and the Mosque interior that has a high dome and a minaret, and houses special exhibits. The current exhibit entitled “From Iznik to Jerusalem,” shows beautiful Armenian ceramics and colored tiles. The style of intricate designs with many flowers, trees and animals, while identified with the Armenian culture of Jerusalem, originated in the eastern Turkish city of Iznik and was heavily influenced by Chinese pottery designs that came along the old “silk road.” This style reached Jerusalem as a result of the Turkish massacre and expulsion of the Armenians from Turkey in 1915 during WWI.
The Mosque was part of the city captured by Israeli forces during the War of Independence in 1948, that included the whole of the Negev. In 1953 it became a museum, but in 1992 it was declared unsafe and was abandoned. The Beersheva Municipality began a campaign to conserve the building and restore it to its previous function. However, this was opposed by various Beduin and Arab groups, who sought to have it restored for use as a mosque. In 2011 the Supreme Court of Israel ruled that it should return to its long-term previous function as a museum, and it was reopened in 2014.
While the Governor’s House, that is now also a Museum, was used by the British as the local British Governor’s office during the Mandate (1922-48), there is another reminder of the British presence. In the garden of the Police Station there is a bust of Gen. Allenby, the British C-in-C who was responsible for the capture of Beersheva in 1917 and then of Jerusalem and ultimately the whole of the Holy Land that then became the British Mandate and ultimately became Israel.
Note: My reaction to the “Black Lives Matter” article in The Jerusalem Post (see IsBlog 8/8/16) was published as a letter today (11/8/16)