Upper Nazareth 370.
(photo credit: Upper Nazareth Municipality)
The Knesset Education Committee on Tuesday discussed the issue of establishing
an Arab school in Upper Nazareth, despite the adamant refusal of the city’s
Mayor Shimon Gafsou.
Committee chairman MK Amram Mitzna (Hatnua) said that
the mayor’s position was unacceptable, while a group of Arab MKs led by Ahmed
Tibi (United Arab List-Ta’al) and Haneen Zoabi (Balad) said the refusal was
Gafsou explained his opposition by declaring that the wish to
build an Arab school in his city was a “nationalist provocation under the guise
of human rights.”
For many years, he said, the Arabs of Nazareth and the
Jews of Upper Nazareth lived peacefully side by side, each with their own
customs and way of life.
However, Gafsou continued, the discussion was
really about altering the status quo by changing Upper Nazareth from a Jewish
city into a mixed one, thereby giving up its Jewish character. The result of
letting more and more Arabs enter his city will result in the flight of Jews
from the city, Gafsou added.
“I, and the tens of thousands of residents
that are with me, will not allow this to happen!” the Upper Nazareth mayor
stated, adding that the effort to establish the school is meant to “oust the
Jews from the Galilee.”
Gafsou said that Arabs that still want to live in
the city know beforehand that they will have to travel five to 10 minutes by
“Anyone who comes to live in Upper Nazareth” knows that it is “a
Jewish city, which speaks Hebrew, flies the blue and white flag – singing
‘Hatikva,’ does not drive on Yom Kippur and prays in the synagogue,” he
Asked by The Jerusalem Post if there is a mosque in his city, Gafsou responded, “No and there will never be mosques in Upper Nazareth as long as I am
Amnon Beeri-Sulitzeanu, the co-executive director of The
Abraham Fund Initiatives in Israel, told the Post that Upper Nazareth is already
a mixed city according to the official state definition, which applies to other
mixed cities such as Acre, Haifa and Ramle.
As such, he said, the city
has an obligation to build the school and supply services to its Arab population
just like other mixed cities.
The Abraham Fund co-director called Gafsou’s
statements a racist policy, and said that the city has an obligation to provide
Arab schools to its residents.
It cannot be a case of a particular mayor
deciding whether there should be a school or not, Beeri-Sulitzeanu said, adding
that the government should implement a policy for mixed cities on a national
level. The decision should not be left to the whims of the mayor that happens to
be there, he argued.
Beeri-Sulitzeanu said that one of the reasons that
this issue has come to the fore is because of the difficulty of building and
lack of housing in Arab villages.
Therefore, according to him, Arabs move
to mixed cities because they have no choice.
Furthermore, Beeri-Sulitzeanu said, a third of students in Upper Nazareth are Arabs and hence, the
city should have mosques as well as Arab schools.
Gafsou responded to Beeri-Sulitzeanu’s arguments, making three main points. First, he stated that there is currently a struggle going on over the identity of the city and the day that “we give up and define it as a mixed city, will be a watershed in the history of the city,” as the next day there would be strong currents pushing it to become a majority Arab city.
Second, any local government is based on the idea that local residents should be able to influence the identify and character of where they live. As Jews that chose to come live in this city, we have a right to shape its character and not have to “escape from city to city like the Jews who did so for a thousand years until the establishment of the state.”
Lastly, he denied that he is a racist as such a person believes in the superiority of one race over another, whereas in this case “I am a Jew in Israel who wants to live among his nation – not because they are better, but because they are my people. If this is racism – the whole idea of a Jewish state is racist.”