Sunday, December 20, 2009

No more music at Ma'arat HaMachpela?//Ma'arat HaMachpela: Audio levels don't top legal limits

No more music at Ma'arat HaMachpela?
December 20/21 2009

Ma'arat HaMachpela
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.

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.

Ma'arat HaMachpela: Audio levels don't top legal limits

Hebron police today requested that the Environmental Protection Ministry perform noise measurements in the vicinity of  Ma'arat HaMachpela, the Tomb of the Patriarchs.

When the ministry inspectors arrived, Ofer Ochana was asked to begin broadcasting music over loudspeakers from the roof of the Gutnick Center in order to perform the tests. It should be remembered that only a few days ago he was warned that he would be immediately arrested should he broadcast the music, defined as 'public noise.'

The examination concluded that the audio levels do not exceed the legal limitations.
On the other hand, the intensity of the sound produced by speakers of the Arab muezzin, also tested by the Environment Ministry, was found to exceed the limits permitted by law.
As a result it is expected that the Hebron police will reach two important decisions:
1. The Arab muezzin should be immediately detained, commencing a criminal investigation against him
2. The Jewish songs will be allowed to continue playing, as has been customary for many years.
Today, Shas MK Rabbi Haim Amsalem sent a letter to Minister of Public Security Yitzhak Aharonovitch on this matter:
MK Amsalem's letter stated:
For years Jews have complained about the unreasonably loud audio sound from the mosque loudspeakers directed straight into the area allocated to Jews at Ma'arat HaMachpela.
Two years ago a professional examination to measure the noise level was carried out, and found that the speakers exceed permissible levels by a very large rate. To this day nothing was done to stop the phenomenon, although the High Court recognized the right of prayer as one the foremost human rights (HCJ 466/06, 10356/02 , 10497/02)].
In light of this, the police action to stop the Jewish prayer melodies, broadcast from speakers of the Gutnick Center, within the Jewish area of the Ma'ara courtyard, thereby enforcing the law only against Jews, is a very serious.
The steps taken by the police against Mr. Ofer Ochana represent selective law enforcement, and is a serious breach of freedom of expression and freedom of worship.
I request that you order the police to immediately annul this unfair decision.

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