Minarets on the horizon..
(photo credit: REUTERS)
In the shadow of the so-called muezzin bill, politicians on either side of the dispute traded accusations on Wednesday of incitement to religious war over the controversial legislation.
The bill would ban religious institutions from using loudspeakers and is primarily designed to prevent mosques from broadcasting the Islamic call to prayer over loudspeakers, in particular during the early hours of the morning.
Residents of Jerusalem neighborhoods such as Pisgat Zeev and Neve Yaakov have long complained that the call to prayer from mosques in the nearby neighborhoods of Shuafat and Beit Hanina are excessively loud and wake people up at 4:30 in the morning when the first of the five calls to prayer are issued.
The bill was scheduled for a preliminary reading in the Knesset plenum on Wednesday but the vote was postponed.
Speaking to the press on Wednesday morning, MK Ahmad Tibi of the Joint List party said that the law would change the nature of the conflict in the region from a political and nationalist one to a religious conflict.
He said it was supported by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu due to his “competition” with Bayit Yehudi leader Naftali Bennett to be right wing.
Tibi also accused Netanyahu of being “Islamophobic” in his support for the law, and said that the global political situation made it a good time to advance such Islamophobic laws.
In particular, he said that the election of president-elect Donal Trump in the US, who he also described as Islamophobic, gave the muezzin bill a tail wind.
“Muslims think this bill is aimed at humiliating and violating their religion,” said Tibi. “Some mosques are here long before the establishment of the State of Israel… We will decide what is good for Muslims and we won’t accept this law.”
He also said that Palestinians “are an indigenous population, they didn’t immigrate here and have been here long before those who are advancing this bill such as [Yisrael Beytenu] MK [Robert] Ilatov.”
The MK said the way to solve problems surrounding the call to prayer was for local communities to engage in dialogue between each other in order to come to a solution.
However, when asked whether or not mosques in Shuafat and Beit Hanina should reduce the volume of the call to prayer to prevent disturbances to residents in Pisgat Ze’ev and Neve Yaakov, Tibi was less conciliatory.
“Pisgat Zeev is built on stolen land, so the residents there should be more modest when talking about changing Muslim habits," he said.
MK Robert Ilatov of Yisrael Beytenu and a proponent of the bill rejected Tibi’s claim that it would create religious conflict and said that it was the Joint List MK’s rhetoric that was instead responsible for inciting religious tensions.
Ilatov pointed out that the law would not outlaw the call to prayer at all, but only the use of loudspeakers.
“Until a few decades ago, the call to prayer was done without loud speakers and was issued by voice alone,” said the MK, adding that Saudi Arabia, the Gulf states and Egypt had regulations limiting the sound level of mosque loudspeakers and the time they can be used, and that several European states have also limited their use.
“Why doesn’t Tibi criticize Saudia Arabia over it’s dictates on the call to prayer,” asked Ilatov.
“Tibi on an ideological level thinks that Israel doesn’t have right to exist and or a right to legislate on anything here,” noting that Tibi earlier this month called on Palestinians, meaning also Arab-Israelis to “rebel” against the state in an interview with a media outlet associated with Hezbollah.
“There are as many as half a million people who live in mixed towns, and the mosques are using loud speakers at very high volumes to do the call to prayer, the timings of the different mosques are not synchronized, and when the call to prayer starts it goes on for a long time and people are disturbed for a long period of time,” he said.
Asked why the current Law for the Prevention of Nuisances does not suffice to prevent excessive noise from mosque loudspeakers, Ilatov claimed the current law is not explicit enough which is why the police do not enforce it.
He said the proposed bill, which is an amendment to the current law, would make the situation more clear and make it easier to enforce.