Israeli bill to muffle Muslim call to prayer stokes tempers on all sides

“The problem could also be resolved through dialogue and agreement, but all the right-wing wants to do is create a provocation,” Joint List MK tells Post.

A man stands near a mosque opposite to a neighborhood in east Jerusalem November 13, 2016. (photo credit: REUTERS)
A man stands near a mosque opposite to a neighborhood in east Jerusalem November 13, 2016.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Following Sunday’s approval of the “muezzin bill” for a preliminary reading, activists on both sides of the dispute have spoken out.
Arye Orange of Pisgat Ze’ev in northern Jerusalem has been campaigning for relief from what he describes as an “unbearable disturbance and an injustice” in relation to the call to prayer, broadcast over loudspeakers at mosques in the late at night and early in the morning.
Orange, who has lived in the neighborhood for 15 years, said the problem has intensified in the last five years after new mosques were built in the nearby Beit Hanina and Shuafat both on the top of hill crests and in valleys, creating an echo that magnifies the noise.
“People have to get their rest,” he said. “We are not against Muslims, Jews or Christians. But no one should be allowed to make such a loud noise so early in the morning.”
The bill, proposing to ban religious institutions from using outdoor loudspeakers, was proposed by MK Moti Yogev (Bayit Yehudi).
Orange said the problem was particularly acute in the summer since those without air conditioning need to keep their windows open to keep their bedrooms cool, but that this obviously absorbs the noise, which can begin at around 4 in the morning.
“The noise erupts through the quiet of the morning, children wake up. It’s a terrible injustice,” he said.
Tzvika Yungreiss is another activist in Pisgat Ze’ev trying to bring an end to the nightly disturbances of the call to prayer, and like Orange, insists that there is no religious or political motivation in the demands of neighborhood residents to quieten the call to prayer.
He said he had double glazed the windows in his son’s bedroom, but the call to prayer can still be heard very loudly.
Yungreiss also said mosques use extremely powerful loudspeakers that are unnecessarily loud, and children in the neighborhood have suffered from a lack of concentration in school due to their sleep being disturbed.
He said, however, that the existing Law for the Prevention of Nuisances, which prohibits making an unreasonably loud noise is applicable to mosques and places of religious worship, and that the police could demand that mosques reduce the volume of the call to prayer under the terms of this law.
“As long as the current law is not enforced by the police, I am in favor of the new law, which would be a water-tight solution to the problem,” Yungreiss said.
In a letter to the justice minister and chair of the Ministerial Committee for Legislation, MK Yousef Jabareen of the Joint List, also pointed out that the Law for the Prevention of Nuisances should be sufficient to resolve the problem.
“This is a criminal statute, and anyone violating it can be punished with heavy prison sentences,” Jabareen wrote in the name of all 13 MKs of the amalgamated party.
Speaking to The Jerusalem Post, he said the wording of the proposed law was “extremist” and said that in light of the existing law, the party views MK Yogev’s law as “a provocation” and “persecution of the Arab population.”
“The problem could also be resolved through dialogue and agreement, but all the rightwing wants to do is create a provocation,” Jabareen said.
Yogev’s office denied this claim, saying numerous efforts have been made in the past three years to deal with the issue and to have the current law enforced but that nothing had been done.
“Now the issue has been raised onto the agenda, everyone’s talking about and perhaps now they’ll be some results. If the problem is dealt with before the bill passes its third reading then great, but in the meantime the law will advance,” Yogev’s spokesman said.
He said the law could be amended in committee to apply at the most problematic times of the day, between 11 at night and 6 in the morning.
Amnon Be’eri-Sulitzeanu, co-executive director of the Abraham Fund coexistence group, said excessive noise pollution was a problem, but like Jabareen, said the existing law should be used to resolve the issue.
“Because there is already legislation in place, and it will in effect only apply to the Muslim community, it looks like this bill was designed to antagonize people,” he said.
Be’eri-Sulitzeanu said existing tensions between Jews and Arabs are already problematic and loaded enough, and it is very unwise to charge these tensions further with this dimension of religious conflict.
“Relations between Jews and Arabs in mixed areas and cities need dialogue and inclusive policies, and issues of friction cannot be solved by legislation that will hurt the fabric of relations between [different] groups,” he said.