I am all for a democratic Upper Nazareth, but first of all a Jewish one" declares Gapso, a Tunisian immigrant vying for the town’s mayorship in the coming elections. With that he dismisses the appeal of a delegation of Arab residents to take their concerns into consideration. He is not the only contender for the post who is dismissive of Arab demands. All candidates quoted in Lily Galili’s report in Haaretz (http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/1009568.html) express similar opinions, usually in more openly racist language. It should be pointed out that those Arab intruders are likely to be descendents of the area’s native population whose land the Israeli government under Ben Gurion’s leadership expropriated for the benefit of Jewish immigrants some fifty years ago.
An incident I still recall vividly from over twenty five years ago illustrates the maladjustment of the residents of Upper Nazareth to their Arab surroundings. A complaint from the mayor of the Arab village of Reineh was received at the District Health office that I headed temporarily. The city of Upper Nazareth had released its untreated sewage down the valley at the edge of his village, the plaintiff claimed. I immediately called in the Nazareth Sub-district Physician who was in charge of both concerned localities. She happened to be a Russian immigrant residing in Upper Nazareth and her husband happened to be the physician heading the sanitary department in Upper Nazareth’s city administration. When she read the complaint from the neighboring village she assured me that she knew about this and that it is unlikely that the situation will be corrected soon. As an explanation she offered the fact that the village of Reineh has been transgressing against Upper Nazareth since day one of its establishment. The calls for prayer from the village mosque so early in the morning disturbed the sleep of the city residents and the village’s mayor had refused to do anything about it. She didn’t spell it out but I sensed the clear message that she approved the tit-for-tat. Were it not for my own impotence in the system, she would have lost her job.
Over time and with the expansion of Upper Nazareth, the residential area of the native town of Nazareth became more restricted. The creeping encroachment of the favored new twin with its expansive luxurious neighborhoods, parks, industrial zones, and shopping malls, progressively deprived old Nazareth of any land reserves for its natural growth. Some of Nazareth’s younger well-educated residents are lured by the promise of freedom and better opportunity in foreign lands, especially in North America. Paradoxically, as the capital of the Palestinian minority in Israel, it attracts some of the young professionals from the surrounding Arab villages. To my generation the ultimate success story of a young Galilee villager was to attain professional status and sufficient income to qualify for a Nazarene beauty, preferably the daughter of one of the city’s established families. On balance, Nazareth’s population continued to grow to the point that the city no longer could accommodate it within its restricted borders.
Thus, deprived of its natural expansion zone, very early on, Nazareth’s population started spilling over into the new neighboring town that was originally conceived of as a counterbalance to it. The better-off nascent middle class of Nazareth, doctors, lawyers, engineers and the like, started making lucrative offers to home owners in the tidier upper Nazareth with its better infrastructure and services. Many Jewish owners of government-subsidized homes and apartments in Upper Nazareth were less than pleased with its limited urbanity and westernization compared with such central locals as Netanya and Tel-Aviv. Its close proximity to several Arab villages and to old Nazareth, from which it is separated only by a two-lane highway, added to its unattractiveness to Ashkenazi immigrants. The must have sensed that they were being ‘exiled’ to this failed experiment in Europeanization of the Palestinian space. After all, the very same agencies, governmental or international para-statal Jewish ones, involved in enticing them to immigrate to Israel, make a regular habit of brain washing such clients into absolute enmity to Arabs and to all things Arabic. In this case this practice proved to be a two-edged sword. Many such immigrants were alienated from Arabs not only to the degree that they had no qualms about taking over their land but also wanted to get away from them altogether.
That is when another Arab strange characteristic came into play: On the whole, Palestinians in Israel have limited economic horizons. They have little incentive for investment and very few business ventures beyond small family enterprises. What they earn is saved for family-centered occasions: a son’s wedding (and more recently splurging on a daughter’s wedding has become fashionable as well), building a house and buying a good car, all handled on cash-down basis. Many manage to accumulate hefty saving bank accounts toward such major life events.
Now let us step back into the shoes of the disgruntled Ashkenazi immigrant in Upper Nazareth. Sooner or later you manage to meet the heavily subsidized payments on the public housing unit or the fancy home you occupied upon arrival in this God-forsaken locale surrounded on all sides by antagonistic, unclean, ignorant natives. Now you are free of the restrictions placed on you the contractor who developed the subdivision, by the housing and the absorption ministries, and by the Jewish Agency barring you from selling your house to non-Jews. And now at the door appears a young couple with checkbook in hand willing to pay for it on the spot. You may dislike and suspect them but they speak fluent Russian, your mother tongue, and their Hebrew is even better than yours. And they seem to be rather polite and offer to meet your lawyer to close the deal. And your cousin or aunt or the brother-in-law of your sister’s mother-in-law has located an apartment in a good neighborhood in Tel-Aviv, a walking distance from the beach and hardly any Arabs in sight at all. And you can deposit your cash money in the bank and pay for the new apartment on installments. And if you get proof for your wife’s disability you may qualify for an interest-free housing bank loan. And they think you can get a cashier’s job at the neighborhood’s superette. The hell with the objections of next-door neighbors, with the speeches of the mayor, and with the warnings of the Committee to Keep Upper Nazareth Pure! Let us go see the lawyer.
There is a thin wedge, a panhandle of upper Nazareth that juts out in a westerly direction along the ridge separating the north edge of the misshapen grabben that makes up old Nazareth from neighboring Reineh village. On both sides of this wedge you find the fancy homes of well-to-do Nazarenes, a mix of some of the well-established old landed aristocracy of Nazareth, still with their aristocratic pretentions but without the land, and of a few noveau-riche arrivals from Galilee villages including some of my physician colleagues. The neighborhood is so prestigious that it was the site a decade ago of the first of the two traffic lights in Nazareth, right in front of the falafel joint that attracted diners from all over Israel before its master falafel-maker was killed in a family feud. Arrabeh, my own home village, has since replaced Nazareth as the falafel Mecca of Galilee.
One of the first public housing projects in Upper Nazareth was located in this confiscated land strip and was specifically planned for housing families of army personnel, hence its name, Shkhonat Tzahal – Army Neighborhood. Of course, the Jewish-only clause must have applied. But soon enough, something like the above scenario took place and the first Arab family moved in, possibly feeling some security in the area’s proximity to Arab homes on both sides of the ridge. In retrospect, no one should have been surprised by the ensuing events: The downward spiral in the prices of apartments and homes and the flight of Jewish owners out of Shkhonat Tzahal. It is a familiar phenomenon to American residents of formerly white-only suburbs. By now the residents of the Army Neighborhood of upper Nazareth are nearly all Arabs, though it has kept its name. Despite the local vigilantes and the continued friction, including the threats and actual attacks against Upper Nazareth’s most outspoken Arab resident, former Knesset Member Azmi Bshara, the infiltration of other parts of upper Nazareth by Arab young couples continues by force of necessity. It has reached such proportions that Upper Nazareth has been officially listed as a mixed city, there is an Arab member in the city council, and Arabs dare to make demands on candidates for mayor. You would think it is enough to make the intruders, and who is an intruder depends on which side of that two-lane highway you stand, pick up and leave.