Peres's visit to Nazareth draws mixed response

Institute of higher learning to be built in Arab city; 60 activists protest visit.

Protest outside of Peres event in Nazareth 390 (photo credit: YAAKOV LAPPIN)
Protest outside of Peres event in Nazareth 390
(photo credit: YAAKOV LAPPIN)
President Shimon Peres visited Nazareth on Monday as part of an effort to reach out to the city’s 80,000 Arab residents, and concluded the visit with a historic pledge to set up an institute of higher education – the first of its kind in the city.
His visit drew a mixed response. While the city’s top representatives welcomed the president, a group of around 60 activists waving Palestinian flags arrived from the Balad political party and the Islamic Movement, and staged a protest outside of a municipal cultural center where Peres spoke, as a police helicopter hovered overhead.
The protest was mostly peaceful, though two Balad activists were arrested for disturbing the peace and attacking police.
Addressing youths at the city’s municipal library, Peres said, “You are an important and inseparable part of Israeli society and Israeli society needs you.” He told the children that they were entitled to full equality so that they could realize their dreams.
Nazareth Mayor Ramiz Jaraisy, in welcoming Peres to his city, said the president had a rich record of advocating equal opportunities for Arabs and Jews in all his previous roles. Jaraisy added that he was confident that Peres would continue with that policy. The mayor asked Peres for assistance in establishing an institute of higher education in Nazareth – and gained the president’s immediate approval.
“I say he should come, though he is not loved here,” Riad Sahdal, a local resident, told The Jerusalem Post near the scene of the protest.
Sahdal lamented the poor economic state of the city, and called on the government to investment more in Arab areas.
“The state of Israel is my mother, and the Palestinian people are my father. I cannot give up on either,” Sahdal added. “We pay taxes and work, but our situation is bad. Are we citizens or are we guests?” he asked. “It’s not enough to just come and shake hands. We need policies to improve our situation.”
“We have no factories. Tourists who come only pray, they do not contribute to the local economy,” Sahdal added.
During his tour of the city, Peres met with some 150 religious and civic dignitaries, and called for full equality between Arabs and Jews in education and economic opportunity.