A bill being put forward to Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, will, if passed, ban mosques from using loudspeakers to broadcast the call to prayer five times a day.
The bill has government backing and support from a significant number of legislators. And though it is currently being appealed, it is likely to pass should the vote take place.
The backers of the bill, which was originally intended to stop the broadcasting of nationalist messages, now claim that the goal is to curb “noise pollution.”
Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, has stated that “Israel is committed to freedom for all religions,” and the proposed ban serves to “protect [Israel’s] citizens from noise.”
Assault on Palestinian identity
Whatever Netanyahu says, the move to ban the call to prayer should be understood first and foremost as an assault on Palestinian identity.
The Israeli European settler colony project has relentlessly manipulated and wholly changed the cultural features of Palestine in its imposition of supremacy over the land and the people who dwell there.
The Muslim call to prayer is a staple feature of our lands, and its significance extends well beyond its religious purpose. One cannot violently force a settler presence and then express annoyance at a defining feature of the indigenous people’s culture.
As for the “noise” pretext presented by the backers of the bill, Israel is hardly concerned about the noise pollution it systematically inflicts on millions of Palestinians living under occupation.
Israel’s militarized drones hover over the Gaza Strip, often nonstop for weeks, causing alarm and distress and preventing Palestinians living there from sleeping at night. In Gaza, they call it “zannana,” an onomatopoeia describing the obnoxious buzzing noise it creates.
The West Bank gets its share of drone noise as well, though perhaps not to the extent of Gaza. During the Jewish holidays in October, the drone loomed in the skies over Jerusalem and Ramallah, and at workplaces each day, Palestinians compared how they were awoken or kept awake by its buzzing.
And what about the noise pollution caused by the hundreds of Israeli military checkpoints throughout the West Bank, which profoundly disrupt Palestinians’ lives?
A short while ago, I was leaving Bethlehem and heading back to Jerusalem at a late hour. The Bethlehem checkpoint had a long queue of cars waiting to pass, the drivers sitting 45 minutes without moving an inch.
The checkpoint abuts a neighborhood and a refugee camp, the residents of which are subjected to the horns of frustrated drivers and their running engines, all because a lone Israeli soldier on the other side of the queue might feel like searching each car very slowly.
And then there’s the nightly raids conducted by Israeli occupation forces in cities, towns and villages in the predawn hours across the West Bank.
Soldiers throw sound bombs, waking up whole neighborhoods, often for absolutely no reason other than terrifying the sleeping population. During these raids, children in their beds are woken up by heavily armed soldiers who photograph, interrogate or even arrest them.
The Hebron-area community of Dura was subjected to a month of night raids as a form of collective punishment earlier this year. Soldiers broke down doors and even brought large dogs to harass Palestinian families in their homes in the middle of the night.
The government proposal to ban the call to prayer drops a barely concealing mask by which Israel presents itself as a vibrant, diverse democracy. This was never the case, and the charade is further exposed each day.
The true aim of the bill is to catalyze the complete erasure of Palestinian identity from the land.
I’m reminded of a summer night in Ramadan, sitting on a rooftop with friends, hearing “Allahu akbar, Allahu akbar” in the distance, everyone becoming quiet for a moment, listening, feeling the breeze on our faces, and preparing our souls for the approach of dawn.
It is beautiful, and it is our culture.