Daily Israel Report

Jewish Music Banned at Holy Site

A human rights group has accused Israeli police of discriminating against Hevron's Jews by banning Jewish music near the Cave of the Patriarchs.
By Avi Yellin
First Publish: 12/18/2009, 11:40 AM / Last Update: 12/18/2009, 11:27 AM

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The Organization for Human Rights in Judea and Samaria has accused Israeli authorities of unfairly and selectively enforcing laws for Jewish and Arab residents of the mixed city of Hevron. For years, visitors arriving at the Cave of the Patriarchs in the holy city have been greeted by Jewish music emanating from loudspeakers atop the Gutnick Center next door to the ancient site. But on Thursday, the music was banned and Ofer Ochana, a resident of nearby Kiryat Arba, was interrogated and threatened by the police.

Following the investigation, Ochana was warned that if he attempted to broadcast music over the speakers again he would be arrested and brought up on charges. From information received by the Hevron Jewish community, this police action was most likely a direct order from the new military commander of the central region, who also reportedly demanded that the police carefully examine the law and find a criminal offense that could be attributed to Ochana. The police discovered several laws relating to noise being broadcast publicly from a business in a residential neighborhood. Ochana, who also directs a store and banquet hall inside the building, was then summoned, interrogated and warned. His speakers were disabled and the music was silenced.

As a result of these measures, the Organization for Human Rights in Judea and Samaria sent a letter to regional police commander Itzik Rachamim, titled “Selective law enforcement regarding loudspeakers in the vicinity of Ma’arat HaMachpela.”

The letter reads as follows:

“For years Jewish worshipers at the Cave of the Patriarchs 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 order to measure the noise level compared to conventional criteria. The results, delivered to the Hevron 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 of human rights. In light of this, it is very puzzling why Mr. Ofer Ochana is being investigated for playing Jewish prayer music from the speakers (with far less intensity than the Muslim prayer calls) at 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 play Jewish music in this area again 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 Cave of the Patriarchs to take steps which will be understood to reveal that their welfare and tranquility have been violated by the muezzin’s call to prayer…

Your action yesterday can only be defined as selective law enforcement, represents serious denial of freedom of expression and freedom of worship, and only 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 to several members of Knesset.