Israeli flag in front of minaret
Israeli flag in front of minaret Flash 90

Jerusalem residents may finally have their night's sleep returned to them, as the Municipality is starting a new process to investigate and limit the noise pollution of local mosques' prayer call loudspeakers.

The muezzin prayer call of "Allahu akbar (Allah is great)," blasting over the night air at 4 a.m. or earlier, has been a particular cause of suffering for residents living adjacent to Arab neighborhoods in the Holy City.

In a new move, initiated by nationalist Councilman Aryeh King, the prayer call of 200 mosques in the eastern part of Jerusalem will be measured to see if the decibel level violates the law.

King made the fight against Muslim noise pollution a priority when he was elected last November. At the time he stated "just like it's forbidden for us (Jews) to make loud noises after 12 at night it will be forbidden for them."

200,000 shekels have reportedly been allocated for the pilot program, in which the volume of the prayer calls emanating from two mosques in the south of the city will be measured. Mosques that disturb the public peace with their amplified prayer call will be put on a "black list" by the city.

Mosques on the list will be ordered to turn their loudspeakers to face the center of the Arab neighborhoods and villages, to try and prevent disturbances to the rest of the city. If that step isn't enough, a technological solution will be installed to screen and reduce the noise dramatically.

When approached last week about the pilot program, King said "I don't want to respond so as not to mess things up. Every word that is said threatens to get the project stuck, and that's the last thing I want."

Arab backlash - 'it's a shame and a disgrace'

Arab Muslim residents of the city were less than an appreciative of the request to consider their non-Muslim neighbors.

"It's a shame and a disgrace," claimed Darwish Darwish, head of the Arab neighborhood of Issawiya that has produced a steady stream of violence in recent years and turned Hebrew University's Mount Scopus Campus into a "war zone."

Darwish added: "I don't understand the municipality and the Jews. This is a blow to religious values. What are all these efforts needed for? Can't they just ask?"

Contrary to Darwish's assertions that a simple request would have been answered, Jewish residents of the French Hill neighborhood adjacent to Issawiya have complained for many years about the noise pollution.

The situation reached the point where community director, Yochanan Bechler, threatened Darwish that if the muezzin wasn't quieted down, Jewish residents would respond with their own "call," playing blaring rock music at 3 a.m. While Darwish initially accomodated by turning the speakers to face the neighborhood, residents complain that the noise has crept back up again recently.

Mohammed Alian, head of the Muslim residents of Beit Safafa, backed Darwish by saying "this plan comes to attack Islam and its adherents." He even used the same words as Darwish, opining "it's a shame and a disgrace."

"I expect the municipality to act for coexistence between the populations in the city, and instead of that it's fanning hatred," charged Alian, saying the municipality councilmen "should be ashamed."