Bid to quieten Muslim call to prayer amplifies Israel tensions
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.
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.