The Knesset (Israel’s Parliament) has got into bizarre ways of late. It has introduced and approved a plethora of laws that dehumanize the Arabs. Legal luminaries around the world have called Israel’s pattern of discriminatory law making absurd and clearly in violation of international human rights standards.In 2012, Adalah, the legal center for Arab minority rights in Israel, published a report, The Discriminatory Laws Database, which collected and analyzed more than 50 laws “enacted since 1948 that directly or indirectly discriminate against Palestinian citizens of Israel in all areas of life.” Each of these laws was passed, as a report states, with discriminatory intent, and have been managed in a discriminatory manner. The big problem here is that these legal provisions can hardly be fixed because discrimination is inherent in Israeli law. It is, after all, a state that characterizes itself based on ethnicity. If you are not Jewish, you cannot be Israeli in the real sense of the word.
In 2016, Adalah identified five major rights concerns: forced displacement, discriminatory laws, ‘shoot to kill’ policy, education and employment gaps, shrinking civil society space. Each of these now has particular affect on Palestinian citizens of Israel.
Last week the Knesset went one step worse. It has now taken steps towards bringing into force a law aimed at muting mosque calls to prayer in Jerusalem and Israel. Israel now seeks to silence the sound of prayer! Detractors deem the law both as racist and a contravention of the right of worship. Worse, they deny the very Arab Muslim presence. A Palestinian member of the Knesset, called the bill “a declaration of war… between sanity and racism” against Israel’s Palestinian minority; while another simply termed it as “committing a racist act”. Anger was palpable among the Arab lawmakers and one of them was ushered out of the after he tore up a copy of the bill into bits. Israel is employing subtle ways to appropriate the Palestinian identity through this law and its practice.
As expected, Israel has muscled public support for its cause. Those who support the bill say that they want their precious sleep minus the early morning calls to prayer through loudspeakers mounted on minarets. Those who see through these arguments call the legislation redundant and say they are clearly aimed to infringe on the basic rights of Palestinian citizens of Israel, the majority of who are Muslim.
The bill must be seen as not just another racist bill targeting Palestinians…But unlike any of the other laws that infringe on our basic rights, this law specifically targets Muslims. Arab Muslims now view this bill as another colonialist tactic denies their de facto existence. Israel has always tried to camouflage the Arab narrative of its colonization. This law unpeels the covering.
International condemnation has been swift. Jordan and Turkey disapproved and separately condemned the bill. A spokesman for Jordan’s government termed the legislation a breach of its legal obligation in the peace treaty of 1994 peace treaty which obliges Israel to “respect” Jordan’s role in taking care of Islamic holy sites in Jerusalem. Turkey’s Presidency of Religious Affairs termed the bill “unacceptable”, adding that Muslims in Jerusalem would read the call to prayer together in defiance.
Palestinians make up 20% of Israel’s population- an estimated 1.7 million Palestinians – comprising Christians, Muslims and Druze. The call to prayer has been a part of Muslim culture since the rise of Islam and a part of Jerusalem since Arab presence was established in the region.
Israel has sought to soften the impact of the social and political consequences arguing that the restriction applies only to the call to prayer at dawn, known as the ‘fajr’. It was planned to be functional during all prayer times. It was softened when ‘haredi’ parties (a broad spectrum of groups within Orthodox Judaism who reject post modern secular culture) realized that this very law could also be used to silence the Shabbat sirens which announce the beginning of the Sabbath each Friday.
The only exception that applies is that it will not apply to areas including the al-Aqsa mosque, Islam’s third holiest site and located in a compound in Jerusalem’s walled Old City. But a violation outside of defined areas will attract a 10,000 shekel ($2,700) fine.
Palestinians have stated their intent to reject the law. Hamas forewarned “stiff resistance…Our people and nation will raise the Azan all over the world.” The Palestinian Authority has expressed its opposition as well, with chairman Mahmoud Abbas warning the bill “would drag the area to disaster.” Ahmed Tibi (Joint List), an Arab-Muslim Israeli politician and leader of the Arab Movement for Change (Ta’al), an Arab party in Israel has called for people to disobey the law.