Silencing our mosques is the next stage in our dispossession

Moti Yogev’s ‘muezzin law’ is yet another step toward creating a public atmosphere that could lead to expelling Arabs from Israel.

By Abed Abu Shehadeh

Muslim men pray inside a mosque in the northern city of Acre, March 3, 2015. (Marcelo Sus/Flash90)
Muslim men pray inside a mosque in the northern city of Acre, March 3, 2015. (Marcelo Sus/Flash90)

As it does every year, the sounds of the muezzin reached the Knesset this past week. Last time it was Yisrael Beiteinu’s Anastasia Michaeli who brought the “muezzin law” before the Knesset; this time it was MK Moti Yogev (Jewish Home). The dangerous bill, which was approved by the Ministerial Committee for Legislation, leaves little room for the imagination: “Houses of worship will be forbidden from using loudspeakers to call the worshippers to prayer or to transmit religious, national or sometimes inciting messages.” Yogev is the same member of Knesset who cares so much about the public interest that he previously proposed bulldozing Israel’s High Court of Justice. After all, why would the public need to defend itself from the tyranny of the regime once Yogev’s Jewish Home party gets into power?

Cynicism aside, time and again we have heard these kinds of remarks by Jewish Home MKs, and each time we have been astounded by the degree of ignorance and cruelty that has come to characterize the party: from Bezalel Smotrich, who does not believe a single Arab passed the psychometric entrance exams, to Education Minister Naftali Bennett, who gloated about killing Arabs during his military career.

Regardless of the ease with which we automatically pay attention to their comments, this law could not have even been proposed in the first place had it not received widespread public support, as part of a continuing attempt by Jewish Israeli society to mold the public sphere in its image. Or as Yogev put it: for the sake of “the quality of life of the state’s citizens” (as a military man, Yogev must know that should the bill pass, there would be massive demonstrations across the country that could actually harm the public’s “quality of life”). Therefore, it is clear to all that the main impetus for such a law is the feeling of supremacy of Israel’s Jewish citizens, such that the only their religious symbols are acceptable.

What is astounding to Arab society about this public discussion is not that we were caught off guard, but rather that the entire is issue is foreign to us: in Jaffa, especially in the Arab neighborhoods, there exists an Arab social fabric that includes both Christians and Muslims. Never did we imagine Jaffa without the muezzin or church bells. In our view, calls to prayer and church bells are apolitical — they are an integral part of our identity and the identity of our city.

The first time this ever became an issue was when wealthier Israeli Jews began moving into Arab neighborhoods. That was when we were shocked to discover that our new neighbors, who passed by the mosques and churches — the ones who knew to pay lip service to coexistence and multiculturalism — are full of complaints about these houses of worship, all while entirely ignoring the religious sensibilities of its older residents. Jewish Israelis view the gentrification of these neighborhoods as a positive development, without understanding how invasive the process actually is.

The occupier’s gaze is at the base of Israeli society. We can write books and articles providing religious and cultural justifications for the muezzin — but to the ears of the occupiers, doing so will always be viewed as an acts of uprising. They will hear the muezzin and believe in all their hearts that it is inciting against them in the language they were taught to hate. The soldiers among them will be reminded of their service in the occupied territories; they won’t get used to the dissonance, and justifiably so: their world is divided between occupied and occupier, and the Palestinians in Israel subvert this logic. In practice, this behavior, which is translated into the muezzin law, is intended to force us to change our customs so that they have an easier time defining their public space. This is another step toward creating a public atmosphere that could lead to expelling the Arabs of this country.

If this is true, I do not accept the claim that the Israeli Right is the sole driver of this law. This is the Israeli consensus, which is built on cooperation of the Left and the Right — when both sides are driven by racist motives under the guise of “quality of life.” Should the bill pass, we will bare witness to a situation in which Israeli Police step inside mosques to take apart their PA systems. This will only bring about harsh, unanticipated reactions — leading to a new era in relations between Arabs and Jews.

Abed Abu Shehadeh is a Balad Party member and a student at the School of Government and Society of Tel Aviv-Yaffo Academic College. This article was first published in Hebrew on Haokets.

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