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Israeli lawmakers aim to silence Mosques

March 8, 2017

The call of the muezzin is seen as an art form by many, but to Israel's parliament it is an unwelcome 5 a.m. annoyance. Two new laws have sparked deep anger among Israel's 20 percent Arab population.

Jerusalem Altstadt
Image: Getty Images/AFP/M.Kahana

Israel's parliament granted preliminary approval to laws that would limit Muslim calls to prayer from mosques and prohibit their use of loudspeakers at all hours.

The proposed laws ignited a shouting match in parliament and enraged Arab lawmakers - some of whom tore copies of the two pieces of legislation and were later ejected from the chamber, as depicted in footage of the reading.

The first bill would ban a summons to worship via loudspeakers between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m, muting the first of five daily calls emanating from mosques. The second proposal would ban amplification in residential areas at all hours and impose a fine of 10,000 shekel (2,600 euros or US$2,700).

The first version would apply to mosques in annexed east Jerusalem as well as across Israel, but not to the highly sensitive al-Aqsa mosque compound, Islam's third holiest site, news agency AFP reported. It was not clear if the second proposal would cover al-Aqsa, which is located in a religious compound in Jerusalem's walled Old City.

In November 2016, huge tensions arose between the Jewish and Muslim populations after Benjamin Netanyahu backed one of the two bills. To pass, the laws still require two more readings in Israel's parliament, known as the Knesset.

'Just use an alarm clock'

The bills are designed to apply to any religious place of worship, but Muslim opponents say that it was clearly worded to silence mosques.

Motti Yogev of the far-right Jewish Home, pne of the sponsors of the first bill, which is regarded as somewhat less rigid, said the proposal was "a social law that aims to enable people to sleep".

"Loudspeakers have not been here forever, and in recent decades there are alarm clocks for whoever wants to wake up for the mosque," he said.

Turkish women shout slogans against Israel as they hold Palestinian flags and placards reading 'Azans (the Islamic call to prayers) will not be stopped in Jerusalem' during a demonstration in front of Israeli Consulate in Istanbul
The first law triggered international protests in November after Netanyahu came out in support of itImage: picture-alliance/dpa/T. Bozoglu

Ahmad Tibi of the predominantly Arab Joint List alliance of lawmakers called the measure "a racist act".

"This is an important Muslim religious ceremony, and (the Knesset) has never intervened in a Jewish religious event," he said.

Government watchdog groups called the measure an unnecessary provocation that threatened freedom of religion in Israel.  Tzipi Livni, a leader of the centre-left Zionist Union party and a former foreign minister, said "proud Israelis" should join together in opposing legislation that would only "spread hate and ignite tensions" between Muslims and Jews.

aw/ss (AFP, Reuters)