[News] palestine - The Real Link Between Israel’s Forest Fires and Muezzin Bill

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Tue Nov 29 11:01:43 EST 2016


http://www.counterpunch.org/2016/11/29/the-real-link-between-israels-forest-fires-and-muezzin-bill/ 



  The Real Link Between Israel’s Forest Fires and Muezzin Bill

by Jonathan Cook - 
<http://www.counterpunch.org/author/jonathan-cook/>November 29, 2016

/Nazareth./

Israeli legislation ostensibly intended to tackle noise pollution from 
Muslim houses of worship has, paradoxically, served chiefly to provoke a 
cacophony of indignation across much of the Middle East.

Prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared his support this month for 
the so-called “muezzin bill”, claiming it was urgently needed to stop 
the dawn call to prayer from mosques ruining the Israeli public’s sleep. 
A vote in the parliament is due this week. The use of loudspeakers by 
muezzins was unnecessarily disruptive, Mr Netanyahu argued, in an age of 
alarm clocks and phone apps.

But the one in five of Israel’s population who are Palestinian, most of 
them Muslim, and a further 300,000 living under occupation in East 
Jerusalem, say the legislation is grossly discriminatory. The bill’s 
environmental rationale is bogus, they note. Moti Yogev, a settler 
leader who drafted the bill, originally wanted the loudspeaker ban to 
curb the broadcasting of sermons supposedly full of “incitement” against 
Israel.

And last week, after the Jewish ultra-Orthodox lobby began to fear the 
bill might also apply to sirens welcoming in the Sabbath, the government 
hurriedly introduced an exemption for synagogues.

The “muezzin bill” does not arrive in a politically neutral context. The 
extremist wing of the settler movement championing it has been 
vandalising and torching mosques in Israel and the occupied territories 
for years.

The new bill follows hot on the heels of a government-sponsored 
expulsion law that allows Jewish legislators to oust from the parliament 
the Palestinian minority’s representatives if they voice unpopular views.

Palestinian leaders in Israel are rarely invited on TV, unless it is to 
defend themselves against accusations of treasonous behaviour.

And this month a branch of a major restaurant chain in the northern city 
of Haifa, where many Palestinian citizens live, banned staff from 
speaking Arabic to avoid Jewish customers’ suspicions that they were 
being covertly derided.

Incrementally, Israel’s Palestinian minority has found itself squeezed 
out of the public sphere. The “muezzin bill” is just the latest step in 
making them inaudible as well as invisible.

Notably, Basel Ghattas, a Palestinian Christian legislator from the 
Galilee, denounced the bill too. Churches in Nazareth, Jerusalem and 
Haifa, he vowed, would broadcast the muezzin’s call to prayer if mosques 
were muzzled.

For Ghattas and others, the bill is as much an assault on the 
community’s beleaguered Palestinian identity as it is on its Muslim 
character. Netanyahu, on the other hand, has dismissed criticism by 
comparing the proposed restrictions to measures adopted in countries 
like France and Switzerland. What is good for Europe, he argues, is good 
for Israel.

Except Israel, it hardly needs pointing out, is not in Europe. And its 
Palestinians are the native population, not immigrants.

Haneen Zoabi, another lawmaker, observed that the legislation was not 
about “the noise in [Israeli Jews’] ears but the noise in their minds”. 
Their colonial fears, she said, were evoked by the Palestinians’ 
continuing vibrant presence in Israel – a presence that was supposed to 
have been extinguished in 1948 with the Nakba, the creation of a Jewish 
state on the ruins of the Palestinians’ homeland.

That point was illustrated inadvertently over the weekend by dozens of 
fires that ravaged pine forests and neighbouring homes across Israel, 
fuelled by high winds and months of drought.

Some posting on social media relished the fires as God’s punishment for 
the “muezzin bill”.

With almost as little evidence, Netanyahu accused Palestinians of 
setting “terrorist” fires to burn down the Israeli state. The Israeli 
prime minister needs to distract attention from his failure to heed 
warnings six years ago, when similar blazes struck, that Israel’s 
densely packed forests pose a fire hazard.

If it turns out that some of the fires were set on purpose, Netanyahu 
will have no interest in explaining why.

Many of the forests were planted decades ago by Israel to conceal the 
destruction of hundreds of Palestinian villages, after 80 per cent of 
the Palestinian population – some 750,000 – were expelled outside 
Israel’s new borders in 1948. Today they live in refugee camps, 
including in the West Bank and Gaza.

According to Israeli scholars, the country’s European founders turned 
the pine tree into a “weapon of war”, using it to erase any trace of the 
Palestinians. The Israeli historian Ilan Pappe calls this policy 
“memoricide”.

Olive trees and other native species like carob, pomegranate and citrus 
were also uprooted in favour of the pine. Importing the landscape of 
Europe was a way to ensure Jewish immigrants would not feel homesick.

Today, for many Israeli Jews, only the muezzin threatens this contrived 
idyll. His intermittent call to prayer emanates from the dozens of 
Palestinian communities that survived 1948’s mass expulsions and were 
not replaced with pine trees.

Like an unwelcome ghost, the sound now haunts neighbouring Jewish towns.

The “muezzin bill” aims to eradicate the aural remnants of Palestine as 
completely as Israel’s forests obliterated its visible parts – and 
reassure Israelis that they live in Europe rather than the Middle East.

/A version of this article first appeared in the National, Abu Dhabi./

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