This Israeli mixed Arab-Jewish city is in denial
Nearly a quarter of the residents in Upper Nazareth, founded as a Jewish suburb of the Arab city below, are now Arab – yet it doesn’t have a single Arab school or Arabic on the municipality website
By Noa Shpigel Aug 20, 2017
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Four years ago, leaflets were distributed around Upper Nazareth calling for an end to the application of the law allowing Israelis to live wherever they wanted. “Now is the time to defend our home!” the flyers declared. They were part of Upper Nazareth Mayor Shimon Gapso’s 2013 election campaign and were accompanied by billboards declaring “Upper Nazareth – Jewish forever.”
Gapso won the election, although his term was cut short after he was jailed following a bribery conviction. His electoral pledge wasn’t the first on the subject. A year earlier, the chairman of the Yisrael Beiteinu party in city hall tried to initiate a plan that would have provided grants to Arab residents who sold their homes to Jews and then left Upper Nazareth. In fact, a decade ago, Gapso initiated a competition to choose a new name for the city so it didn’t sound like Nazareth – the Arab city in northern Israel it was established next to.
Nevertheless, over the past decade there has been a substantial increase in the Arab population of Upper Nazareth: in 2015 the Central Bureau of Statistics said that 23.1 percent of the city’s residents were Arab. Yet there is a lack of recognition of the city’s diversity. By contrast, in Haifa – which is considered a mixed Jewish-Arab city – Arab residents comprise only 11 percent of the population.
Haifa, though, has a different history and different customs. In the northern coastal city, there is no attempt to counter the statistics. In Upper Nazareth, there are more than 2,000 Arab schoolchildren but not a single Arab school, where Arabic would be the language of instruction. And, also unlike Haifa, there are no Christian or Muslim religious institutions - not even a cemetery.