Why Encourage Palestinian Hope With Mosque Loudspeakers?

For some reason, the advent of the holiday season reminds me of the muezzin's call to prayer. It's a symbol of identity for Israel's Arabs – so it too needs to be stamped out.

Illustration: Sayed Kashua lifts a turkey over his head as a mosque loudspeaker blares nearby.
Amos Biderman

Thanksgiving has arrived, along with the cold weather. In the meantime, it’s raining. I like the winter rains, and I’m gradually getting used to the smell of the local variety. The weather forecast is a prime topic of conversation here. Some are promising an unusually severe winter. Last year was relatively mild, under the influence of El Nino, but this year the word is that we’re in for strong winds mixed with fear.

Many predict that we are on the brink of a new era. People are writing a lot about “the system,” and blaming identity politics and also academia for focusing on ethnic issues and abandoning the “real” and primary unifying element that is so lacking among large numbers of Americans who feel forsaken. The local forecasters lament the death of identity liberalism and urge the advancement of an identity post-liberalism that will satisfy the masses who are searching for common ground to give meaning to their lives. As though identity liberalism were the system that dictated policy in the United States, as though the identity politics they like to blame ever exceeded its narrow symbolic boundaries.

But here, I’m an observer from the side, as I am with baseball: I don’t have a team to root for and I’m only just starting to understand some of the rules. Anyway, whatever the forecast for next year, I will always be awaiting snow in Jerusalem and will be saddened when I hear about fires raging around the city. I used to be very afraid of those fires in the Judean Hills during the hot, dry sharav season – afraid of the smoke, of the flames that might approach the neighborhood and the preschools, and of the sweeping accusations against the Arabs, which turned into solid fact even if they had no foundation on the ground. Soon they’ll start to say that all avenues of investigation are being explored, some ranking police officer will say that arson is suspected and will provide the information the people have been waiting for, supply an address for hatred and blame, and unite the nation around A bonfire lit by the Arabs.

And how wretched are the Arabs who don’t have a clue about what to do on Thanksgiving, or how to get the children to feel a holiday atmosphere of some sort. For a moment I thought that maybe we would buy an oven-ready turkey and put it on the table. Is it the custom on Thanksgiving to buy presents for the children, or new clothes? We actually survived Halloween safely – it’s like Purim, and the rules are quite clear. The children dressed as Americans and knocked on the neighbors’ doors in Captain America costumes and received heaps of smiles and sweets.

For some reason the holidays that are celebrated here, even if their meaning eludes me, make me miss the sounds of the azan, the call to prayer, that announced the advent of the holidays in Tira. The person who actually sounds that call to worship is the muezzin.

My childhood home in Tira was situated not far from one of the big mosques. The azan was sounded five times a day, yet I’m convinced that it was only when I moved to Jerusalem that I heard it for the first time. The sound reached my boarding school from afar, maybe from Beit Safafa, or maybe from somewhere between Khader and Beit Jallah. It was a weak muezzin’s call, audible only at the time of the dawn prayers, because Jerusalem was still sleeping then and gave an impression of innocence. I never heard the azan in Tira, though it hung in the air above our children’s room, and at midday above our classroom. And just as people who live by the sea don’t hear the noise of the waves after a while, I heard the muezzin’s call for the first time when it was muted out of my daily routine.

I haven’t heard it since we moved here, and I wake up at the hour of the dawn prayers, which I’ve never recited, knowing that something is missing. Occasionally I hear azan on television or in a movie. A feeling of disgust fills me at every Israeli or American movie that starts with the call of a muezzin: to signify dangerous territory, to create a feeling of anxiety and suspense in the Israeli or American viewer. Every novice Hollywood director knows that the minaret of a mosque denotes hostile territory, and the azan portends death lurking around the corner. If it’s investigative journalism or a documentary film, and the sound of the azan is picked up in real time, that’s proof of our reporters’ bravery as they risk their lives on the way to the truth.

I once read an article about Tzur Yitzhak, a town that shot up overnight between Tira and Taibeh, as though giving them the finger, and was designated a “community settlement.” In the article, the newcomers talked about the suffering caused them by the sounds of the azan from adjacent Taibeh, and about the city dump that was affecting the quality of life of the community settlement, which was part of the “seven stars” project to build Jewish towns along the Green Line.

But it’s not enough to cut up the land, not enough to fragment society – their dignity has to be trampled too, every ray of hope snuffed out. And when the storehouse of targets runs out, we will fight against symbols, too. After all, what’s left to the Palestinians other than a few symbols, which they insist on clinging to? Their hold on those symbols must be loosened, too; after all, we’ve proved that nothing will happen as a result, the decision will pass without much fuss. People will demonstrate here and there, but that’s just fine, it will also empower the clerics. For what could be better than an Israeli government attack on Islam to justify its path and the recruitment of believers?

Gradually we will also crush the ability to dream. After azan, maybe olive trees will be banned, on the pretext that they are a hazard to the environment, and very quickly, with Trump’s aid, we’ll get to Al-Aqsa, too, the most obdurate of the symbols. And let us all say amen.

Why symbols? They’re void of content and only implant futile ideas in the Arabs’ hearts. The fact is that hardly anyone is demonstrating against the legalization of the settler outposts, as though people have resigned themselves to the trampling of every possibility of sovereignty. But they will demonstrate against the silencing of the mosques. And maybe we’ll annul the law, we’ll say it’s superfluous and offends the sensibilities of the Muslims, and they will feel that they’ve won a marginal battle, totally superfluous, which diverts fire from the main target.