New Abu Snan Mayor Says His Christianity Is a Problem

Jack Khoury
Jack Khoury
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Jack Khoury
Jack Khoury

The mayor's office in the western Galilee village of Abu Snan has been locked for two weeks. The Druze mayor, Ali Hazima, is sitting at home after being removed from office by order of the Haifa Magistrate's Court, which convicted him of fraud and breach of trust.

Deputy mayor Naim Musa was appointed in his stead. But the appointment of Naim, 45, a Christian dentist, generated a wave of protest in the town, especially among the Druze.

"Rejecting me on the basis of my religion is unacceptable," Musa said. "My job is now to lead the town and I will do so for as long as I am required without differentiating between one community and another."

Among Abu Snan's 11,000 residents, 53 percent are Muslim, 23 percent are Druze and 23 percent are Christian. Although they are a majority in the village, the Muslims are still seen as refugees from nearby villages abandoned in 1948. The Druze character of the town is predominant.

Musa is a member of an old established Abu Snan family. But his opponents in the Druze community see placing management of the town in his hands as a break with norms.

"Our problem with Musa is not with his religion, but with the policy he represents," says attorney Mohammed Kher, a Druze resident of the village and a leader of the legal battle against Hazima.

However, in the same breath, Kher adds: "There are no Druze in the town council leadership. It's as if we're out of the game. Dr. Musa and his friends in the coalition now have to deal with the economic recovery plan. That involves firing workers, most of whom are Druze. Can you imagine that Musa, or any of his friends in the coalition, can implement a program like this without the support of the Druze council members?"

Two groups have coalesced in Abu Snan over the years. Ali Hazima, a Druze, heads a group that included the Hadash and al-Rasalah factions. Support for this faction comes mainly from Muslims and Christians. In opposition to Hazima is the United Druze List, which also garnered support among the Christians and Muslims who opposed Hazima's line. In recent years, the mayor has been Druze with one Christian deputy and one Muslim.

On September 7, special elections were held in Abu Snan following the breakup of the unified local councils of Abu Snan, Julis, Yarka and Yahuah-Jatt. The campaign was tense, taking place after Hazima's conviction in July for crimes committed while he was mayor in 1995 and 1996. However, the court did not deal with the elections in its decision; Hazima ran against two other Druze candidates and won.

On October 31, a month after Hazima took office, Haifa Magistrate's Court Judge Yaakov Wagner sentenced him to a six-month suspended sentence and a NIS 20,000 fine. In addition, because the infractions were crimes of moral turpitude, Hazima was ordered to step down.

The next day Musa was directed to take up the post until further notice. In a letter to Musa, Herzl Guedj, the Interior Ministry's northern district chief, wrote that Interior Minister Avraham Poraz is in no hurry to declare new elections in the town as long as Hazima can appeal his sentence. Hazima has already announced his intention to do so.

"This decision is a fundamental mistake," argues Nihad Mishlav, who ran against Hazima in the last elections. "We are not against Christians or Muslims, but there is a status quo in Abu Snan that is good for the town. The dry [letter of the] law is unaware of the social problems in Abu Snan and what has been done is a recipe for a blow-up."

Mishlav is also critical of the fact that Hazima ran, although he knew he might have to step down.

Hazima rejects the criticism. "Everyone in Abu Snan knew about the trial and the majority still voted for me. My lawyers said the chance the crimes would be defined as being of moral turpitude were slim. I believe the District Court will clear me. Until then, there's no problem with Dr. Musa leading the council."

Rafiq Nasra, a Muslim and secretary of Hadash in Abu Snan, says the claims of Druze disenfranchisement are groundless. "They want cooperation only on their own terms. The attempt to get around Dr. Musa on religious grounds is infuriating."

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