Wednesday votes set for controversial outpost, muezzin bills

Opposition parties and MK Bennie Begin (Likud) argue that the bill allows “theft” of land, and that the Knesset does not have jurisdiction to decide what happens to private Palestinian property.

November 28, 2016 19:46
4 minute read.
Jerusalem mosque

A man stands near a mosque opposite to a neighborhood in east Jerusalem November 13, 2016.. (photo credit: REUTERS)

Two bills that were points of contention in the Knesset in recent weeks are scheduled to go to plenum votes Wednesday. One limits religious institutions’ use of loudspeakers, known as the “muezzin bill,” and another would legalize some currently illegal outposts.

The outpost bill is slated for a first reading on Wednesday, pending approval in the interim by a special committee formed to prepare the legislation.

The bill would allow the state to avoid demolishing West Bank outposts it helped to build by paying Palestinians who held ownership claims on the lands for their use.

MKs in the Likud and Bayit Yehudi parties have rushed to pass the bill before December 25, the day the Amona outpost is slated for demolition.

However, even if the proposal becomes law before that date, it is unlikely to save the outpost, and as such, the government is seeking other solutions.

Opposition parties and MK Bennie Begin (Likud) argue that the bill allows “theft” of land, and that the Knesset does not have jurisdiction to decide what happens to private Palestinian property.

Kulanu, in the coalition, objects to the bill on grounds that it undermines decisions by the judiciary, in that it would apply to places the courts already ruled should be demolished.

The special committee, headed by MK Nissan Slomiansky (Bayit Yehudi), held a heated five-hour debate Monday.

MK Tzipi Livni (Zionist Union) called for the legal advisers of the Justice and Foreign Ministries to address how the International Criminal Court in the Hague will respond to the bill, as well as security experts, in order to explain its ramifications.

“After the [fires of] the last week, we should think twice as to whether passing the muezzin and outpost bills contribute to the explosiveness and violence,” Livni stated.

Slomiansky said he invited all of the relevant experts to the meeting, but that IDF representatives asked to be excused.

The committee’s legal adviser, Elazar Stern – not the MK of the same name – said the bill diverged from the usual understanding of accidental use of private land, for which the state could compensate an owner, because the law in both sovereign Israel and the West Bank applies only to those who think the land belongs to them.

Outposts, however, are built on what is not known to be private or state land, and the bill would in effect turn them into state land.

Stern also said the definition of state recognition of an outpost is very vague.

“You’re denying reality,” said MK Bezalel Smotrich (Bayit Yehudi), one of the bill’s sponsors. “People went to live on a hilltop in a caravan, and two months later the state gave them water and electricity. I want there to be a broad definition. The Sasson and Levy Reports [on the status of outposts] agree that the state was involved and encouraged the settlements.”

MK Michal Rosin (Meretz) argued that if a settlement is built from private donations and not from a recognized entity funded by taxpayers, it does not come from the state.

A Finance Ministry representative said that the bill is expensive and will cost between tens and hundreds of millions of shekels.

Smotrich responded that demolishing an outpost and rebuilding it in a different location will cost more, and accused her of “inflating” the cost of leasing the land, which he said would cost a few million shekels and no more.

As for the muezzin bill, the coalition reached an agreement on how to proceed, leading Health Minister Ya’acov Litzman to lift his formal objection to it.

The bill originally called for prohibiting religious institutions from having outdoor loudspeakers, as a response to mosques blaring the Muslim call to prayer five times a day, including times late at night and before dawn.

Following a compromise in the coalition, the bill will be amended to prohibit the use of loudspeakers by religious institutions between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m. During the day, their use will be limited to half the currently permitted decibel level.

Litzman had opposed the bill on grounds that it would silence the siren heard in predominately ultra-Orthodox areas on Fridays, announcing the beginning of the Sabbath.

MK Motti Yogev (Bayit Yehudi), one of the bill’s sponsors, said on Monday that it will “prevent serious disturbances to many citizens’ sleep, whether they’re Jewish or Muslim. Students go to school tired, drivers drive while tired... There’s no justification for worshiping God while keeping other people awake,” Yogev posited. “We do not want to harm believers; we just want to protect the citizens’ ability to sleep.”

Speaking at a Fatah conference in the West Bank, MK Ahmed Tibi (Joint List) called for the bill to be fought at the “parliamentary, political, legal and grassroots level.” Tibi has called in the past for civil disobedience in response to the bill.

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