No more music at Ma'arat HaMachpela?
By David Wilder
12/20/2009, 12:00 AM
David WilderDavid Wilder was born in New Jersey in 1954, and graduated from Case Western...
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For the first time in years - probably as a result of a direct order from the new Commander of the Central Region, it will be forbidden to play Jewish prayer music at the Ma’arat HaMachpela courtyard.
The Gutnick Center, outside Ma'arat HaMachpela
He was warned that if he dared to again play music over the speakers he would be arrested immediately
For years, Jewish visitors arriving at the Ma’arat HaMachpela have been greeted by Jewish music, played from loudspeakers atop the Gutnick Center, outside Ma’arat HaMachpela. The lyrics of all the songs are taken from the Jewish liturgy, changing from time to time depending on the time of year: the Ten Days of Repentance, Elul – Selichot, holiday prayer melodies, Shabbat songs and so on.
Yesterday, for the first time in years, these prayer melodies were banned: Ofer Ochana a resident of Kiryat Arba, was summoned by the police, interrogated, and charged with a criminal offense.
Following the investigation he was warned that if he dared to again play music over the speakers - would be arrested immediately. From information we received, this is probably a direct order of the new Commander of the Central region, who also demanded that the police carefully examine the law and find a criminal offense that could be attributed to Ochana. After tedious searches the police discovered several laws relating to noise being publicly broadcast via a business in a residential neighborhood. Ochana, who also directs a store and a banquet hall inside the building, was summoned, interrogated and warned. His speakers were disabled, and the music which delighted the hearts of the many visitors to Hebron, was silenced.
As a result of these baffling measures, the organization Human Rights in Yesha contacted regional police commander Itzik Rachamim, in a letter titled: Selective law enforcement regarding loudspeakers in the vicinity of Ma’arat HaMachpela.
The letter reads as follows:
"For years Jewish worshipers at Ma’arat HaMachpela have complained about the unreasonable and illegal noise of loudspeakers sounding the Muslim calls to prayer into the area assigned exclusively for Jewish worship, and in the Machpela courtyard. There is no need for this because these areas are not used for Muslim prayer (excepting 10 days a year.) Two years ago a professional examination was carried out in to measure the noise level compared to conventional criteria. The results, delivered to the Hebron DCO reported that "if the regulations to prevent hazards (unreasonable noise) from 1990 were applied in this case, the noise levels recorded very highly exceed permissible levels." Despite these official inquiries, nothing was done to stop the daily disturbances which greatly impaired daily Jewish worship at the site. This, despite the fact that the Supreme Court recognized the right of prayer as one the foremost human rights
In light of this, it is very puzzling why Mr. Ofer Ochana is being invested for playing Jewish prayer music from the speakers (with far less intensity than the Muslim prayer calls), from the Gutnick Center, an area allocated for Jewish worship with the specific goal of creating an atmosphere of Jewish worship. Much graver is the threat that he would be arrested immediately if he dared to again play Jewish music in this area while no similar criminal steps were taken towards the Arab muezzin. If the criterion which you utilize to examine the decision whether to conduct a criminal investigation and threaten detention is a suspicion of "breach of peace" (the language of Section 194 (a) of the Penal Code) - then there is enough to push the public Jewish worshipers at the Ma’arat HaMachpela to take steps which will be understood to reveal that their welfare and tranquility have been violated by the muezzin’s call to prayer. Is unadulterated strength the way in which you think law should be enforced? Your actions yesterday can only be defined as selective law enforcement, and represents serious denial of freedom of expression and freedom of worship, and encourages violent reactions. I ask you to explain why this extreme step was taken and, why you do not enforce the law equally, allowing freedom of expression and worship equally to the two religions."
A Copy of this letter was sent to the Minister of Religious Affairs, other ministers and Knesset members.