On November 14, Palestinian Members of the Israeli Knesset (MK) Taleb Abu Arar and Ahmad Tibi took to the podium to recite the adhan (Muslim call to worship). Their actions elicited outrage from Zionist parliamentarians.
Tibi and Abu Arar were protesting the so-called muadhin bill, which was being debated by parliament at the time. The legislation, which has gone through various incarnations, prohibits religious institutions from utilizing outdoor sound systems. Despite its supposedly broad application, the draft law is explicitly aimed at silencing the adhan, which is typically communicated from PA systems installed in mosque minarets.
According to its supporters in the Knesset, the bill addresses complaints regarding “excessive noise” created by the prayer broadcasts and is a tool to restrain “words of incitement” that are allegedly included in the calls to prayer. For Palestinian activists and lawmakers, however, the bill is little more than an excuse to further marginalize Palestinians and “Judaize” Israel-Palestine, especially Jerusalem.
For those unfamiliar with the history of Israel-Palestine, the proposed legislation may sound reasonable. After all, the notion that religious practice be removed from the public sphere has become an unquestioned, if not hegemonic, aspect of liberalism. But, in Israel-Palestine, liberal ideals cannot be considered separate and apart from the ongoing settler-colonial project and the enforced separation that marks everyday life for Palestinians across Israel and the Occupied Territories. Against this backdrop, the muadhin bill attempts to stifle the encroachment of a long-repressed past and present that threatens Israel’s political and social order.
Since its mass displacement of the Palestinians in 1948, Israel has promulgated various laws and policies aimed at denying the very existence of the Palestinian people. From the earliest days of the Israeli state, several strategies have been employed to render the Palestinian population invisible and prevent “Palestine” from serving as an organizing principle of communal identity and protest.
One such strategy has been to contain the majority of Palestinians in isolated and increasingly shrinking territorial units inside Israel itself. This process was realized through and monitored by a military regime until 1966. Its legacy can still be felt today, as the overwhelming majority of Israeli citizens live in ethnically homogenous zones. This segregation allows for persistent denial of Palestinian history and identity among the majority Jewish Israeli population, which interacts infrequently with Palestinians.
In more recent years, the Israeli government has passed the nakba law, which withholds state funds from institutions that mourn Israeli Independence Day as a symbol of Palestinian dispossession. Israel has also attempted to establish Hebrew as the only official state language to the exclusion of Arabic, among other laws aimed at curbing expressions of Palestinian identity.
Herein lies the importance of the muadhin bill. Sound emanating from Palestinian institutions force Israelis to bear witness to repressed histories. The bill is, for this reason, a method of sensory management, re-enforcing ethnic domination and Palestinian invisibility, at a time when the stability of the Zionist project is increasingly being questioned by journalists, academics, and international institutions.
The muadhin bill was blocked from further consideration on November 16, after concerns were raised by ultra-orthodox MKs, but now appears set to move forward. As such, it must be opposed and called out for what it is: a mode of dispossession and device for protecting Israel’s settler-colonial mindset from disturbance.