Israel’s Arab community held protests across the country on Friday, to protest a bill that would ban mosques from using loudspeakers to call Muslims to prayer in the early morning hours.
Hundreds of people marched in the town of Kafr Qassem on Friday afternoon, Channel 2 television reported. The marches carried banners against the bill, which they see as inciting against Israel’s Arabs.
“We will not stop the muezzin [the person who leads the call to prayer] and will not stop our prayers,” Kafr Qassem Mayor Adel Badir said. “Our right to a muezzin and to prayer does not derive from any law, it is a basic right, like the right to life, or the right to live under a roof. It is an inseparable part of our right to exist and to pray.”
In the southern city of Rahat, some 100 people held a rally against the bill, while more than 500 took part in various demonstrations in the north, police said.
Attending a protest in the northern coastal town of Jisr a-Zarqa, Joint (Arab) List MK Ahmad Tibi called the legislation “a provocation and act of coercion in the place of dialogue and tolerance,” his party said.
In Gaza, hundreds of supporters of the Hamas terror group that rules the Strip held a protest march through the Jabalya refugee camp, near the enclave’s northern border.
Hamas leader Yusef al-Sharafi told the crowd that “this unprecedented Zionist decision is an encroachment on the freedom of Muslims.”
The bill is the brainchild of Jewish Home MK Moti Yogev, in response to repeated complaints by residents of some Jewish neighborhoods of Jerusalem that border on Arab neighborhoods and villages.
“Hundreds of thousands of citizens in Israel suffer routinely and on a daily basis from the noise caused by muezzin calls in mosques. The law brings a new worldview according to which freedom of worship should not be a factor in harming the quality of life,” the bill reads.
Critics of the legislation in Israel charge that it deliberately targets Muslims and is in fact 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 usually sound their call to prayer around 4 a.m.
On Tuesday, Health Minister Yaakov Litzman of the Haredi party United Torah Judaism demanded that the Ministerial Committee for Legislation hold another discussion on the bill, saying that, in its current form, it could also harm the siren used to announce the onset of Shabbat on Fridays. A new version is likely to be brought back to parliament in the coming week.
“In the Mishnah, they tell of the three calls heard some time before Shabbat to tell people to stop all work, and three calls when Shabbat comes in to announce that from now on any labor is forbidden until the end of Shabbat or the holiday,” Litzman wrote in his opposition to the text of the bill in its current form.
“For thousands of years different instruments were used for this action. With the development of technology, PA systems are used to announce Shabbat, in the allowed volume of sound.”
Litzman said the so-called Muezzin Bill may “harm the existing status quo” regarding the Shabbat siren.
The legislation also drew opposition from MKs of the ultra-Orthodox Shas, who noted that there is already a law dealing with sound pollution, and “the problem is enforcement.”
“Even if this redundant bill passes and there is no enforcement, it will change nothing but damage the honor of many citizens, especially since the wording of the bill may adversely impact on the Shabbat siren. Therefore [Interior] Minister [Aryeh] Deri supports Minister Litzman’s appeal,” the party said, according to Channel 2 television.
Arab MKs say the bill specifically aims to harm the community. Joint List leader MK Ayman Odeh said the bill was “another law in a series of racist and populist laws intended solely to create an atmosphere of hatred and incitement against the Arab public.”
According to Channel 2, government officials say that even if the bill passes, it is likely to be a watered-down version that would limit the volume at which calls to prayer are made, but not prohibit them altogether.
Earlier this week, Israel Radio reported that both Jordan and Saudi Arabia have laws banning the use of loudspeakers inside mosques.