The Jerusalem police have begun issuing tickets and detaining young Palestinians for awakening Muslims during the holy month of Ramadan, calling them to pray and partake in a Ramadan meal between 2:30 and 3 A.M., before the fast begins at daybreak.
Observant Muslims fast from sunrise to sundown during Ramadan, and these young Palestinians, who are known in Arabic as Musaharati, have accused the police of harassing them at the behest of Jewish residents of the Muslim Quarter of the Old City, who have complained about the noise in the middle of the night.
The practice of calling the faithful to pray and eat through song and the playing of musical instruments is a recognized Ramadan tradition. Until this year, the Musaharati have not encountered any problems in carrying out the tradition, despite the noise they make. This year, however, for the first time, police have begun issuing tickets due to residents’ complaints. Six young people have been detained for questioning and ticketed, with fines that collectively amount to thousands of shekels.
Mohammed Hajiji has been a Musaharati in the Saadiya neighborhood in the Old City for three years. Before that he accompanied the previous Musaharati for eight years, He says the police never bothered him for these activities before. “There are three Jewish families in our neighborhood, one new one and two older ones. The policeman told me they had complained and asked me not to make noise near their houses. The whole thing lasts for 20 minutes, maybe a few seconds outside their house. I was told I’d be fined 450 shekels ($126) the first time and 1,000 shekels on the second occasion, with a further 1,000 after that.
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Hajiji was taken on Wednesday night to a police station near the Old City and detained for a few hours. He said the policemen were rude to him. “They started shoving and telling me to shut up, uttering other words I don’t want to repeat,” he said. He vowed to go out again to fulfill the commandment despite the police. “There are a thousand people in the neighborhood who want this and ten who complain,” he said. “Because of them, one thousand people will start the fast without eating first? Why should I be afraid if I’m not doing anything that is prohibited?”
The Musaharati Mohammed Jaabri, also from the Old City, says policemen told him yesterday that settlers living in the neighborhood had complained about the noise. He says he was detained for two hours at the police station and told he’d be fined 1,000 shekels.
The police responded it was “operating at all times to preserve the delicate balance between allowing freedom of religion and ritual and the maintainance of public order and the quality of life of all residents. Following complaints by residents of the Old City about the noise, police acted lawfully to stop the transgression. The police view noisemaking as a major hazard affecting the quality of life of the state’s citizens. The police act with resolve to prevent transgressions and enforce the law in violations such as these, based on the conception that the police’s role is mainly to deal with transgressions that affect law-abiding citizens.”