rosh haayin - Nir Keidar - December 9 2011
Rosh Ha’ayin in the foreground, with Kafr Qasem on the horizon. Photo by Nir Keidar
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Rosh Ha'ayin's mayor and his constituents are taking a stand against Muslim muezzin prayer calls emanating from nearby Kafr Qasem, objecting that the sounds are a disturbance that harms their quality of life. Rosh Ha'ayin Mayor Moshe Sinai has turned to the government, demanding that the Environmental Protection Ministry's director of central region affairs, Gideon Mazor, take action to enforce noise pollution laws.

This appeal stems from a number of complaints lodged by town residents in past years, particularly from Rosh Ha'ayin's northern neighborhood. "Our neighborhood are located on a hill; and this location means that residents hear muezzin calls very strongly," said one Rosh Ha'ayin resident.

Another resident, Shalom Darav, says that a solution must be found whereby "we are not disturbed, and they continue with their rituals. The situation is insufferable, and my neighbors agree with this description. I am prepared to fight for their right to worship, but it doesn't have to be like this."

Over the past year, most of the mosques in the area agreed to hook onto one broadcast system which regulates the intensity of the muezzin calls. At first, this shared audio system appeared to solve the problem, but Rosh Ha'ayin residents continued to complain and the town's authorities appealed to the government.

In a letter sent a month ago by Mazor to counterparts in the Interior Ministry, he alluded to "negative influences with regard to neighborly relations between residents from these two locales."

For their part, Kafr Qasem residents complain about intolerable infringement of their worship. "We are doing everything, in terms of acoustics," explains Kafr Qasem Mayor Nader Sarsur. "We lessened the tone and decibels, but we can't do anything beyond that because this is part of Islamic religion. What's happening here is straightforward racism. We will make sure the muezzin is heard tomorrow and the next day. Anyone who wants to live next to us is welcome."

Rosh Ha'ayin's mayor rejects Sarsur's contentions. "This is neither a national, religious nor historical problem," Sinai claims. "It's an issue about noise and residents."

He explains that if local councils in Israel have to refrain from various activities owing to ordinances regarding "noise pollution," mosques need to adhere to these rules with regard to muezzin calls. "You can pass bills about noise, and then not enforce them," Sinai says. "Government ministries are supposed to enforce the law."

Environmental Protection Ministry officials relay in response that "questions relating to mosques are the jurisdiction of the Interior Ministry's branch for religions and ethnic groups."

They added that the environmental protection and interior ministries worked together to hook up local mosques to one central sound system. With regard to enforcement of the law, the officials state: "Regrettably, the police will not accompany inspectors from our ministry in proactive activities against mosques that break the law."

Meanwhile, the issue has reached the desks of cabinet ministers. On Sunday, the ministerial legislation committee will discuss a controversial proposal formulated by Yisrael Beiteinu MK Anastassia Michaeli, which would ban the use of public sound systems by mosques. "Freedom of religion does not need to cause harm to the quality of life," the bill's preamble declares. Among others, Likud MKs Miri Regev and Tzipi Hotovely have signed the proposed bill.