In another propaganda coup for the Jewish democracy, the mayor of the predominantly Jewish new town of Nazareth Illit (Upper Nazareth) has banned Christmas trees from the town square. Mayor Shimon Gapso announced. “Nazareth Illit is a Jewish town, not a mixed town, and it will not happen — not this year and not next year, so long as I am mayor.”
In fact the town is mixed: but it wasn’t meant to be, and now Mayor Gapso is trying to restore its original ethnic character.
A member of the large Christian minority (mostly Palestinians and a number of Russians) put it into perspective: “The racism of not putting a tree up is nothing compared to the real racism that we experience here,” said Aziz Dahdal, a 35-year-old Christian resident of Nazareth Illit.
Yes, it’s trivial, but one does wonder what the pro-Zionist fundamentalist Christians in the US would make of this: banning a mosque they would understand, but they might just be terminally confused by a ban on Christmas.
At first sight it seems to be another in the spiralling wave of Israel’s rampant racism. It is, and also it isn’t. This place has form, but it is not an exception, rather, it is an exemplary microcosm of Israel’s future momentum.
The Christmas trees, said the mayor, were “provocative”. They certainly know a thing or two about provocation in Nazareth Illit, because the whole town was built as a provocation to one of Israel’s surviving Palestinian towns. The township, just 2 miles from Nazareth and looking down on it like the fortified settlement towns of the West Bank, goes back to the 1950s and typifies the early Judaising of the Galilee that prefigured the more confident and aggressive demographic gerrymandering that is such a feature today in the Galil, the Negev and East Jerusalem.
It started with the theft of the land in 1954, supposedly for government buildings, using a law that permitted expropriations for public purposes. The Supreme Court was assured that this was what it was for. But soon it turned out that more than 90% of the land had already been fixed up with residential planning permission.
According to historian Geremy Forman, an important aim of Upper Nazareth was to ensure Jewish sovereignty in the region. The director of the IDF Planning Department, Yuval Ne’eman, stated that the new town would “safeguard the Jewish character of the Galilee as a whole, and… demonstrate state sovereignty to the Arab population more than any other settlement operation.” The goal was to build a neighborhood that would overpower Nazareth numerically, economically, and politically.
Further land was expropriated in 1967 from three neighbouring Arab villages, leaving six people dead: this is commemorated annually by Palestinians in Israel as Land Day.
Now many Jews have moved out, and Palestinians, desperate for housing which they are not permitted, and certainly not funded, to build, have been moving in. So Mayor Gapso says the West Bank is now settled enough, and he wants some of those aggressive, ideological settlers to come to Nazereth Illit instead.
A new mini-township is being planned, with a further 10,000 housing units intended for an exclusive ultra-orthodox community, who can be relied on not to tolerate any racial mixing. In Gapso’s sickening phrase, he wants to attract a “new, quality populace”.
This is no local issue: the move is supported by a government subsidy of $32 million (some of it from Palestinians’ taxes) and blessed by Shas leader Ovadia Yosef and fascistic Interior Minister Eli Yishai. And Gapso stresses: “The matter of Jewish settlement in the Galilee in general, and in Nazareth Illit in particular, is of national importance today.”
Not far away at Umm al-Fahm, where fascist marchers descended to demand the expulsion of all Palestinians from the country, the town is threatened with the building of an ultra-orthodox city (Harish), intended to swamp and stunt neighbouring towns. In both places, in full pioneering spirit, advance parties arrive to establish core groups, with the usual mix of religious fanatics and an IDF presence.
If anyone thinks that the existence of a separate Palestinian state quietly minding its own business on the other side of a border, fence or wall will usher in a normal democratic state in Israel, they have only to look at Nazareth Illit, at Umm al-Fahm, at 8-times demolished El Araqib and at Silwan and at other such examples of the ongoing Nakba within Israel itself. Only a thorough-going regime change can have a chance of placing this sort of behaviour into the dustbin of history.
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