Hamas Chief Khaled Meshaal: Israel Is ‘Playing With Fire’ by Silencing Mosques

The leader-in-exile of Palestinian militant group Hamas has warned Israel that it is “playing with fire” over a draft bill that would silence mosque loudspeakers from uttering the traditional call to prayer.

Khaled Mashaal lives in Qatar, running Hamas’s political bureau outside of the Gaza Strip, the coastal enclave it has controlled since 2007.

“What the Israeli occupation state is doing at the Al-Aqsa Mosque, as well as preventing the call to prayer in Jerusalem, is playing with fire,” Meshaal told Turkey’s Anadolu Agency in a statement Sunday, referring to the compound that houses a contested Jerusalem holy site. “This created a fierce reaction in the Palestinian community and the whole of the Islamic nation.”

Last week, Israeli ministers, including Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, approved a draft bill to limit the volume on religious places of worship in the country, including mosques that serve Arabs, a large section of the country’s population. The call to prayer from mosques is traditionally announced five times a day through loudspeakers, including once in the morning before dawn.

Palestinian protest against mosque-silencing bill A Palestinian protester burns an Israeli flag during a rally gathering Muslims, Christians and Samaritans to protest against an Israeli draft bill that would limit the volume of calls to prayer at mosques in Israel and Jerusalem, Nablus, November 20. Jaafar Ashtiyeh/AFP/Getty

Right-wing sections of Israeli society complain about the noise bellowing into the everyday lives of Jewish communities and disrupting their sleep, but Palestinian Muslims view the bill as an attack on their culture and way of life.

The text of the proposed ban, which still needs to go through three rounds of voting by the Israeli parliament before becoming law, says that hundreds of thousands of Israelis “suffer habitually and daily from loud and unreasonable noise that is caused by the call of muezzin from mosques.”

The Israeli media has reported that Netanyahu’s 25-year-old son, Yair, is behind the push to pass the legislation. The Israeli leader has reportedly said in government meetings that, as a resident of the Israeli town of Caesarea, he cannot stand the call to prayer noise from the neighboring Arab town of Jisr al-Zarqa.

Meshaal’s threat alludes to a reaction from Palestinians if Israel proceeds with the bill. In April, the group’s leader in the Gaza Strip, Ismail Haniyeh, told a rally in the coastal enclave that the Jerusalem bus bombing, which wounded 21 people in the same month, had demonstrated the group’s commitment to a new Palestinian uprising, or Intifada. Palestinian teenager Abdel Hamid Abu Srour carried out the attack and Hamas claimed him as one of their own. Hamas has fought three wars against Israel since 2008.

The Palestinians have launched two uprisings against Israel’s military occupation in the past three decades, one from 1987 to 1991 and the second from 2000 to 2005. In what some media outlets termed the “stabbing Intifada,” Palestinians have in the last year carried out a series of knife, car-ramming and shooting attacks against Israelis in Jerusalem, other Israeli cities and the West Bank.

The attacks have left 35 Israelis and two American tourists dead. In the same period, since the beginning of October 2015, Israeli soldiers, police and armed civilians have killed at least 226 Palestinians, 154 that Israel said were attackers.

The Palestinian leadership argues that the attacks have been inspired by anger at a moribund peace process with Israel, continued settlement building in the West Bank and alleged violations of the status quo at the Jerusalem holy site that Muslims refer to as the Haram al-Sharif, or Noble Sanctuary.

It is the third-holiest site in Islam, behind Medina and Mecca, and the holiest in Judaism. Jews refer to the site as the Temple Mount, but are forbidden from praying there by a Palestinian-Jordanian Islamic waqf, or trust, that oversees the site.