Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal on Sunday threatened Israel over proposed legislation that would ban mosques from using loudspeakers to sound the traditional call to prayer.
In a statement sent to the official Turkish News Agency Anadolu, Mashaal, who resides in Qatar, said that by advancing the bill, Israel was “playing with fire.”
Last week, the Ministerial Committee for Legislation approved draft legislation to limit the volume on announcements from Israeli houses of worship. The Muslim prayer calls, traditionally announced through minarets five times a day and often amplified with loudspeakers, have been a frequent target of right-wing ire, with some claiming they are an unnecessarily loud nuisance that echoes in Jewish towns and neighborhoods.
“What the Israel occupation state is doing at the Al-Aqsa Mosque, as well as preventing the call to prayer in Jerusalem, is playing with fire,” Mashaal said, referring to the mosque on the Temple Mount in the Old City of Jerusalem, where Palestinians allege — and Israel firmly denies — that there have been changes to the status quo agreement. “This created a fierce reaction in the Palestinian community and the whole of the Islamic nation.”
Critics of the legislation in Israel charge that it deliberately targets Muslims and is redundant as Israel’s law on work and rest hours – a largely unenforced law – bans noise disturbances between 11 p.m. and the morning hours. The muezzins sound the first of the daily calls to prayer around 4 a.m.
On Friday Israel’s Arab community held protests across the country against the bill.
The bill refers to all houses of worship, not only mosques, prompting some concerns from ultra-Orthodox politicians that it could also be directed at the weekly siren announcing the onset of Shabbat.
Last Tuesday, Health Minister Yaakov Litzman of the United Torah Judaism party demanded that the Ministerial Committee for Legislation hold another discussion on the bill. A new version, specifying that the ban would only be enforced late at night or early in the morning, was expected this week.
“Israel retracted the law after the reaction and fears it could lead to the stopping of Jewish rituals,” Mashaal said. “Palestinian anger gave the Israelis a message that this is a red line.”
Mirroring an earlier statement this month, Mashaal added that there would be no “stability in the region without the Palestinians attaining their rights and the departure of the occupation.”
The bill has already earned the opprobrium of the Palestinian Authority, which said it would protest the move through the United Nations Security Council.
Jordan’s Islamic Endowments Minister Abdul Salam Abadi also criticized the bill last week. Abadi, who is director of the department for Al-Aqsa Mosque Affairs, insisted that the call to prayer from the Al-Aqsa Mosque’s loudspeakers would never be silenced.
Under the terms of peace agreements between the two countries, Israel respects Jordan’s special role administering Jerusalem’s Muslim holy places.
Initiated by Jewish Home MK Moti Yogev, the bill was endorsed by party colleagues Bezalel Smotrich and Shuli Moalem-Refaeli as well as by Likud MKs Miki Zohar and Nurit Koren and Kulanu MK Merav Ben-Ari.
Some 20 percent of Israel’s population is Arab, most of them Muslim, making the calls to prayer a familiar sound in many parts of the country.
Cities that have banned or restricted the use of loudspeakers by mosques include Mumbai in India, Lagos in Nigeria,and Egypt’s capital Cairo.
Times of Israel staff and AFP contributed to this report.