mosque, Ma’aleh Adumim
One of the al-Eizariya mosques, with Ma’aleh Adumim in the background. Photo by Emil Salman
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The Ma'aleh Adumim local council is demanding that the loudspeakers announcing the Muslim call to prayer from some mosques in the adjacent Palestinian village of al-Eizariya be turned down because the volume is disturbing residents of the settlement, Palestinian sources told Haaretz.

Ma'aleh Adumim's complaint was raised last Tuesday at a meeting of the joint civilian coordinating committee that brings together Israeli and Palestinian authorities. The Israel Defense Force's Civil Administration in the West Bank would not provide a detailed response to Haaretz on the issue, saying only that in discussions with the Palestinian Authority, the Civil Administration is advancing matters involving cross-border environmental issues, "including noise nuisances."

A spokesman for the Ma'aleh Adumim municipality said the settlement's mayor, Benny Kashriel, has been in touch with the head of IDF Central Command and the head of the IDF Civil Administration on the issue. Despite assurances that he would do so, the spokesman failed to provide Haaretz access to further details directly from other municipal staff.

Ibrahim Za'atra, who heads the Palestinian Authority's religious affairs office in the Jerusalem area, confirmed to Haaretz that he had received a complaint from Ma'aleh Adumim, saying that municipal authorities in the settlement were seeking to lower the volume for the call to prayer - and the reading from the Koran that precedes it - from two mosques next to the settlement. Za'atra called the complaint "unacceptable interference in people's lives and our freedom of religion."

Religious sensitivities, political ramifications

Beyond the religious sensitivities involved, the issue also has political implications. Last July, the Palestinian religious affairs ministry in the West Bank ordered mosques to stop reading from the Koran before the call to prayer, except during the holy Muslim month of Ramadan, saying that the decision had been made in 2007 by the Palestinian Liberation Organization-Hamas unity government. Officials explained that Sunni Muslim experts did not consider the innovation to be required.

Other religious figures in the West Bank disagreed, however, calling it an acceptable custom cherished in many parts of the Muslim world. About two months ago, the order eliminating the reading of the Koran was withdrawn.

The Palestinian religious affairs ministry had also ordered that Friday prayers in small villages be held at one mosque, from which the sermon would be broadcast on a loudspeaker. Palestinian Religious Affairs Minister Mahmoud Habbash explained it then as reflecting the desire of villagers to pray together and to avoid the prospect of nearly empty mosques during prayer. The Israeli media at the time reported that the change followed pressure from Israel and that the Palestinian Authority had agreed to address complaints from settlements about the volume of loudspeakers at the mosques. This led to immediate condemnation of the PA from spokesmen of the Islamic Hamas government in the Gaza Strip.

PA President Mahmoud Abbas took issue with Palestinian press reports on the issue, which he said unquestioningly accepted Israeli news reports, and the PA religious affairs ministry said the changes last July were not the result of complaints from the settlements, and that in any event, no order had been given to lower the volume at mosques.

An Israel defense source told Haaretz that no official response has been received from the PA regarding the Ma'aleh Adumim complaint. The source added that the "noise did not necessarily only bother Israelis. The [IDF] Civil Authority has in the past also received complaints from Palestinian residents about mosque noise."

The PA's communications center expressed shock at the use of the term "noise nuisance" in connection with the Muslim call to prayer.