Bid to qui­eten Mus­lim call to prayer am­pli­fies Israel ten­sions

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

JERUSALEM: It is 4:30 am and Mufeed Shawana is rush­ing to Al-Aqsa Mosque, as the first Mus­lim call to prayer of the day rings out across the Old City of east Jerusalem. But he stops short when asked how he feels about the prospect that the sound echo­ing from the minarets could soon be damp­ened. “It up­sets me. The calls to prayer have hap­pened for 1,400 years.” A bill backed by Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu to ban mosques around Israel and an­nexed east Jerusalem from us­ing loud­speak­ers to am­plify late night and early morn­ing azans, or calls to prayers, has been ap­proved by a min­is­te­rial com­mit­tee ahead of a par­lia­men­tary de­bate and vot­ing.

It has been tem­po­rar­ily blocked but the govern­ment is still con­fi­dent of push­ing it through. Shawana ar­gues that no­body would deny Jews their own re­li­gious rit­u­als, which are “their right”. “This is our right,” he adds, be­fore dis­ap­pear­ing in­side the mosque. The dis­pute around high-deci­bel minarets is not unique to Israel, which ar­gues that other states, in­clud­ing in Europe and North Africa, have sim­i­lar re­stric­tions to those it is look­ing to im­ple­ment. But it has touched a raw nerve in Israel, where many in its mi­nor­ity Arab pop­u­la­tion-around 17.5 per­cent of the whole and over­whelm­ingly Mus­lim-be­lieve Ne­tanyahu’s rightwing govern­ment is sys­tem­at­i­cally per­se­cut­ing them.

They also worry that their con­nec­tion to Al-Aqsa, the third holi­est site in Is­lam, is un­der threat. Large num­bers of Is­raeli Jews view the azans as noise pol­lu­tion, with the bill’s spon­sor Motti Yo­gev, of the far-right Jewish Home party, ar­gu­ing they dis­turb the peace of hun­dreds of thou­sands of peo­ple. He has also claimed that in some cases they are used by re­li­gious lead­ers to in­cite against Israel. In its cur­rent draft, the law would pre­vent the sum­mons to wor­ship­pers be­tween 11:00 pm un­til 6:00 am from be­ing re­layed on loud­speak­ers.

Pales­tini­ans and Arab Is­raelis have or­ga­nized protests against the ban, with an Arab Is­raeli MP per­form­ing the azan in Israel’s par­lia­ment to the fury of some of his Jewish col­leagues.

The Arab League called the bill “a very dan­ger­ous provo­ca­tion”. Arab Is­raelis, who largely iden­tify as Pales­tini­ans, are the de­scen­dants of Pales­tini­ans who re­mained on their land af­ter the cre­ation of the state of Israel in 1948. Yes­ter­day Is­raeli news­pa­per Haaretz re­ported a mosque in the Arab Is­raeli city of Lod was fined 750 shekels ($193) for play­ing the call to prayer too loud.

‘Ter­ri­ble noise’

Beit Safafa in south­ern Jerusalem is a Pales­tinian vil­lage in east Jerusalem flanked by Is­raeli neigh­bor­hoods, in­clud­ing the area of Pat, a few hun­dred me­ters away. In a pas­sion­ate ser­mon at Beit Safafa’s mosque, Na­jih Bkeirat, a re­li­gious leader from Al-Aqsa vis­it­ing for the weekly Fri­day prayers, railed against the Is­raeli plans. “It is very clear the Is­raeli oc­cu­pa­tion with this law, or the at­tempt at this law, wants to Ju­daise the city. They don’t want to hear Ara­bic prayers in the city, they don’t want to see churches in the city,” he later said. “The prayers rep­re­sent a racket but the Is­raeli Jewish cel­e­bra­tions, cel­e­bra­tions at night you hear un­til dawn, they don’t rep­re­sent a racket?” he asked.

For Is­raelis in Pat, turn­ing the vol­ume down is only fair and they ac­cuse the Pales­tini­ans of be­ing un­rea­son­able. “We are a Jewish neigh­bor­hood next to an Arab vil­lage-the noise is ter­ri­ble. I have a lit­tle kid who can­not sleep,” said Ayelet Sadeh, 42. Just like Bkeirat and Shawana, she sees cal­cu­lated mal­ice rather than cul­tural mis­un­der­stand­ing be­hind the ac­tions of the other side. She points to the Jewish hol­i­day of Yom Kip­pur, when life in Israel grinds to a stand­still for a day, as an ex­am­ple - point­ing out Mus­lim prayers con­tinue that day. “Some­times,” she said, “it feels like they are do­ing (it out of) spite.”


JERUSALEM: Fi­ras Kazaz, a Pales­tinian muezzin—the per­son ap­pointed to re­cite the Mus­lim call to prayer—call for prayer from the Al-Aqsa mosque com­pound in Jerusalem’s Old City.

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