Thousands of Palestinian citizens of Israel protest ‘Muezzin bill’

Thousands of Palestinian citizens of Israeli took to the streets Saturday in protest of a bill moving forward in Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, which seeks to impose limits on the Muslim call to prayer in Israel and in occupied East Jerusalem.

The so-called Muezzin bill, a term that refers to the men responsible for the call to prayer — passed a preliminary reading in the Knesset on Wednesday, when several Palestinian Knesset members were removed from the plenum for denouncing the proposed legislation for being “racist” and “a violation of religious freedom.”

Wednesday’s reading was the first of three rounds of votes that the bill must pass through before it can become law.

According to reports from Israeli media, some 3,000 men and women took part in a march Saturday through the town of Kabul in northern Israel, with protesters waving Palestinian flags and signs that read: “The muezzin law won’t pass” or “Don’t silence the muezzin,” and chanting against the legislation and against Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.

“The call to prayer existed long before the right-wing politicians who have no connection to this land,” Kabul’s imam told Israel’s Channel 2. “We will continue to sound our calls to prayer, we’ll even increase the volume of our muezzins.”

“If this right-wing government is looking to provoke Muslims, then that’s what they’ll get,” he added.

Yousef Jabareen, a member of the Joint List that represents Palestinian citizens of Israel at the Knesset, was quoted by Times of Israel as saying that his constituents would not accept the legislation lightly. “The demonstration today is just the first in a series of mass protests and other measures against this racist and draconian law,” he said.

The Muslim call to prayer — also known as the adhan — is broadcast five times a day from mosques or Islamic centers.

Critics of the bill have argued that the draft legislation was superfluous given existing noise regulations, and therefore could be construed as an attack specifically targeting the Muslim right to worship. The current version of the bill only affects the call for the Muslim dawn prayer, also known as the fajr.

The bill was modified last month to prevent the use of loudspeakers by religious institutions only between the hours of 11 p.m. and 7 a.m., after ultra-Orthodox Israeli Minister of Health Yaakov Litzman filed an appeal against the draft law in November out of fear that it could also affect use of sirens for the weekly Jewish call for Shabbat.

Palestinian Authority (PA) spokesman Yousif al-Mahmoud said that the bill was a violation of freedom to worship in Jerusalem, highlighting that the holy city in particular and Palestine in general had a history of respect and harmony between all residents regardless of their religious beliefs.

“It is unbelievable that the long religious and cultural history of the city is being destroyed with the stroke of a pen,” al-Mahmoud added.

Mosques in Israel and East Jerusalem have already experienced backlash for the potential ban, with a mosque in al-Ludd being fined $200 in November for using loudspeakers to broadcast the call to prayer.

Adnan al-Husseini, the Palestinian Authority (PA)-appointed governor of Jerusalem, told Ma’an in November that the sound of the call to prayer didn’t rise above an agreed-upon decibel level, adding that Israeli settlers in East Jerusalem were not annoyed by the noise, but by the adhan as a reminder of Palestinian presence in the city.

Palestinian communities in Israel and occupied East Jerusalem have long been targeted by discriminatory Israeli policies, whether through “divide and conquer” tactics, attempts at forcibly displacing Bedouin communities, and what has been denounced as a policy of “Judaization” of Jerusalem at the expense of other religious communities.