World Middle East First Look

Israel wants Arab neighbors to turn down volume on call to prayer

Arab Israelis say a bill being reviewed by Israel's parliament would take unfair aim at the Muslim call to prayer.

A Palestinian boy walks near a mosque in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan on March 8, 2017.
Ammar Awad/Reuters | Caption

A draft bill that would force mosques to lower the volume of their call to prayer passed in Israel’s parliament on Wednesday, rousing indignation from Arab lawmakers who see it as an affront to Muslim Israelis.

One version of the bill would prohibit all places of religious worship from using loudspeakers between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m., reported the BBC, while an alternative version would enact a round-the-clock ban on loudspeakers considered "unreasonably loud and likely to cause disturbance." Both versions passed the Knesset, but the bill will have to go through further readings before becoming law. 

Some Arab-Israeli parliament members tore up copies of the proposal during debate, with one of them, Joint List party leader Ayman Odeh, ejected from the chamber after doing so.

The bills come during a potentially transformational time in Israel, when the creation of a sovereign Palestinian state seems less likely than ever, as The Christian Science Monitor’s Christa Case Bryant reported in January, as international leaders met in Paris to discuss a last-ditch effort to save the two-state solution: 

But even as the conference's closing statement urged Israelis and Palestinians "to officially restate their commitment to the two-state solution," 2 in 3 Palestinians say that model is no longer viable, according to a recent poll by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research (PCPSR) in Ramallah.

“We want a one-state solution where we return to our lands,” says Nashat Salhieh, a refugee who lives in Al-Amari refugee camp, a few miles from Mr. Abbas’s headquarters in Ramallah. “I want to go back to my country. I don’t care who will rule me. There will be elections, I will have a vote.”

After years of fruitless negotiations, 36 percent of Palestinians now support a single state. Among those, some even say they would be willing to live under Jewish rule, saying they lived better before the PA came, and that Israeli bosses treated them better and paid them on time.

Arabs make up one-fifth of Israel’s citizens, and about 80 percent of them are Muslim. (The 1.6 million Arab-Israeli citizens are distinct from the approximately 4.5 million Palestinians who are not citizens of Israel.)

Devout Muslims pray five times a day, beginning just before dawn, when the call to prayer can be loud enough to wake up residents in nearby Jewish neighborhoods. 

The present bill was proposed in November by Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who described it as a noise-ordinance issue when his ministers sent it to Parliament for consideration, according to The New York Times.

"There is no wish to hurt the believers of any faith," said Jewish Home party member and bill co-sponsor Motti Yogev, adding that it was "first and foremost a piece of social legislation which will allow people to relax during rest hours, Arabs and Jews alike," according to the BBC.

Many Muslim religious authorities see it differently. In November, a former grand mufti of Jerusalem Ekrima Sabri called it "one of the most racist and discriminatory laws" ever proposed in Israel, according to Britain's The New Arab.

"Palestinians in Jerusalem and Muslims across the whole country will oppose [the bill] and the call to prayer will be remain, deafening the ears of the racist fascists who hate it. The call to pray is one of the rites of Islam that has been part of this religion for more than 1,400 years," Mr. Sabri said at the time.

This report contains material from the Associated Press.