By Ramzy Baroud
In a succession of events that indicated major coordination between various Israeli government offices, Jewish settler groups and the municipality of Jerusalem, Israel recently moved to outlaw the Muslim call for prayer, first in Jerusalem, then in other Arab areas inside Israel.
This move was clearly aimed at literally and figuratively silencing Palestinian Muslims and would have been casually filed under yet a new Israeli attempt aimed at Judaizing Jerusalem and eradicating Palestinian heritage — Muslim and Christian alike — throughout Palestine.
But there is more to the story: The timing of these efforts.
True, the original bill to ban the call for prayer was presented by member of the Knesset Moti Yogev, last March, but has become more pressing in recent weeks, following a vote in the UNESCO, which was the subject of much annoyance by Israel.
Following its occupation and illegal annexation of Arab East Jerusalem, Israeli leaders have labored to claim the occupied city as their own, labeling it Israel’s “enteral and undivided capital.”
However, the reality is that aside from most Israelis and their friends in the Christian Right, the international community has never accepted or agreed to the occupation or annexation of Palestine, nor the Israeli designation.
On Oct. 26, following robust campaigning from various Arab and other countries, a UNESCO resolution, once more, emphasized the status of Jerusalem in international law as occupied and agreed to retain the UN designation of the Old City of Jerusalem as “endangered.”
The resolution, which was passed after a vote by the organization’s World Heritage Committee strongly criticized Israel’s violations of the sanctity of Palestinian houses of worship, demanded access to the holy sites to determine their conservation status and, particularity significant to Israel, called Palestinian holy sites by their Arabic, not Hebrew names.
Israel was infuriated. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu responded angrily. His ministers alleged that the vote further demonstrated the UN’s supposed anti-Semitism.
Israel’s evangelical friends flooded UNESCO officials with bibles to “refresh diplomats’ memory” on Judaism’s ties to Jerusalem.
Israeli vengeance surpassed the realm of media rhetoric into aggressive action. First, Netanyahu moved to formalize the illegal annexation of hundreds of acres of Palestinian land in Jerusalem, and Jerusalem Mayor Nir Berkat threatened to demolish “hundreds or thousands” of Palestinian homes in the city.
In other words, Israel’s response to UNESCO was a continuation of the illegal and criminal activities that pressed UNESCO to produce the resolution in the first place.
Israel went still further in trying to silence the call for prayer, first in Jerusalem, then in other cities.
Of course, the call for prayer in Islam carries a deep religious and spiritual meaning but, in Palestine, such religious traditions also carry a deep, symbolic meaning that is unique to Palestinians: The call for prayer means continuity, survival, unity and rebirth among a host of other meanings.
It is these very meanings that made Palestinians in Gaza pray on top of the ruins of their mosques, which were destroyed by Israeli bombs in the last, most devastating war of 2014.
According to government and media reports, a third of Gaza’s mosques were destroyed in the last war on the Strip.
Israel’s attempt to ban the call for prayer is a new low. Its pretext behind the move was termed “noise pollution” — a complaint repeatedly made by Jewish settlers, who moved to Jerusalem and the rest of the Occupied Territories from Europe, the US and other countries, to build homes atop illegally stolen Palestinian land.
On Nov. 3, a small crowd of settlers from the illegal settlement of Pisgat Zeev gathered in front of the home of Nir Berkat, demanding that the government end the “noise pollution,” emanating from the city’s mosques. The mayor readily and immediately obliged.
But it didn’t stop there.
On Nov. 13, the Israeli Ministerial Committee on Legislation approved the draft law aimed at barring loudspeakers on “houses of worship” and quickly pushed the draft for its first reading at the Knesset.
Things seemed to be moving smoothly until Nov. 16 when an ultra-orthodox minister filed an appeal against the draft law. The appeal by Health Minister Yaakov Litzman appeared to be out of character, since ultra-orthodox zealots in the Knesset and cabinet have been the leaders of Israel’s cultural war on Palestinians.
The discerning minister noticed a little defect in the draft law:
Although the bill is entirely aimed at Palestinians, this detail is not specified in its wording, and might, if passed, become a ground for legal arguments by Israel’s secular parties to end Jewish religious practices, where sirens blare every Friday evening to announce the Jewish holy day of Shabbat.
While the vote on the draft law is likely to be postponed for now, until a more unambiguous rhetoric replaces the current one, the war on Palestinian heritage, whether religious and national for both Muslims and Christians, will not cease.
In fact, it will escalate, especially in Occupied Jerusalem and particularly in and around the Muslim Haram Al-Sharif Compound.
It is beneath that compound that Israeli machinery has been tirelessly digging for years, attempting to locate a lost temple, while all the while threatening the foundation of Islam’s third holiest site.