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Nazareth Illit, Israel — “In Nazareth we paid council tax and didn’t get the services,” added Salach, who is in his 20s and works in the family’s manufacturing business.
Many would view the scene of Sliman Salach making his way to work each morning as the pinnacle of a peaceful and desirable Israeli Arab prosperity. With his modern dress and gelled hair, Salach departs from an expensive home in a mostly Jewish neighborhood where he doesn’t trouble his neighbors.
But Gapso’s perspective finds clear support among at least some of Nazareth Illit’s Jewish residents. One local woman, who spoke to the Forward as she waited for a bus, but on condition of anonymity, said that the situation was simple. “I don’t want Arabs, it’s a Jewish city,” she explained.
Teacher Dovi Holtz was happy to go on record. “I don’t believe they should come,” he said. “If a Jew went to buy a house in Nazareth, they would stone the person, but there’s supposedly no problem when they come to take over a Jewish city.”
Unable to stop Arabs from moving in, Gapso today speaks, instead, of diluting their presence. With various other loopholes for restricting residency to Jews closed today, there’s only one legal way to do this: Designate new housing for the Jewish ultra-Orthodox; it’s a practice permitted under Israeli law as a kind of affirmative action for a minority — Haredim — as opposed to prohibited exclusivity for the general Jewish majority.
And so, when driving through the city, you see a huge construction site where, starting in 2014, 3,000 Haredi families will take residence. They will, in all likelihood, represent a lower socio-economic stratum than the Arabs who move in, but Gapso believes it is good for the future of his city.
“I prefer Haredim,” the mayor said, adding that with the coming of these families, “it will stay a Jewish city.” Under Gapso’s plan, the neighborhood will eventually expand to house 18,000 Haredi families.
The insistence that Nazareth Illit is Jewish has been drummed into locals since its establishment. The city was established in the 1950s specifically as a Jewish city, a routine practice in planning and development back then. Designed as part of a broad mandate to “Judaize the Galilee,” Nazareth Illit was planned in such a way that it restricted the growth of Nazareth and other Arab locales nearby. Israeli leaders intended for the town to help counter the huge demographic presence of Arabs in the area.
Holtz, who previously lived in Modi’in and moved to Nazareth Illit in 2009 out of an ideological desire to strengthen the city’s Jewish character, cites local history as justifying the effort to keep Nazareth Illit Jewish. “Ben-Gurion built this city to make sure there is a Jewish presence in the Galilee,” he said. “Since the whole point of building the city was to have Jews in the Galilee, people who talk about it no longer being a Jewish city defeat the object of building the city in the first place.”
But Arab residents say that only the narrowest reading of history can be used to support the case for a Jewish Nazareth Illit. Most of the land for the city was expropriated by the state in the 1950s from Nazareth and from other neighboring Arab villages, including from private landowners. The private owners were entitled to compensation in accordance with the British mandatory law that Israel inherited — just below the pre-expropriation value of the land. But the efforts of their representatives to challenge the expropriation through legal channels failed.
“Why a Jewish city?” asked Ghada Arbid, a retired Arab teacher who has lived in Nazareth Illit since 1985. “It’s built on Arab lands.”
Contact Nathan Jeffay at email@example.com