Opinion |

An Empty Zionist Bluff Appears in Galilee

Salaman Masalha
Salman Masalha
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Nazareth Illit residents vote in referendum to change northern Israeli city's name to Nof Hagalil, June 18, 2019.
Nazareth Illit residents vote in referendum to change northern Israeli city's name to Nof Hagalil, June 18, 2019.Credit: Gil Eliahu
Salaman Masalha
Salman Masalha

“Branding.” That’s the new term for racism in the Netanyahu-Smotrich era. The name Nazareth Illit (Upper Nazareth) created confusion, said a statement from the municipality explaining the decision to change the city’s name. Most Israelis, the statement said, mistakenly think that Nazareth Illit is a neighborhood of the city of Nazareth and this hurts the city’s “ability to create an identity, a brand and affiliation.”

Since its founding, Nazareth Illit’s name has been tied that of the Arab city. Now it is being reborn with the name Nof Hagalil, which is nothing more than an empty Zionist bluff. The new name was chosen by the governmental naming committee and affirmed by a majority of city residents in a referendum.

But this isn’t the first time that the city is changing its name. In its early days it was called Kiryat Nazareth and only later changed to Nazareth Illit. Stamp collectors were invited to come to the post office to get stamped envelopes postmarked Nazareth Illit, Hatzofeh reported in January 1959. The city elders were proud of the Nazareth name, recognizing it as an international label. The city built plants to manufacture “chocolates and biscuits” meant for export with the label “Product of Nazareth,” the newspapers reported.

Mordechai Alon, who ran the community in that early era, “enjoys the trust of all the residents without exception, and also the sympathy and respect of the Arab residents of Nazareth,” Ma’ariv reported in 1960. “He has also fostered social ties between residents of the two places, who often meet at Saharat in the evenings.”

The disavowal of the Nazareth name now is an attempt to throw off any connection with what the Arab city represents. Whether due to the housing crunch in Arab communities or just for the sake of getting better housing, more and more Arab Israelis have been moving to Nazareth Illit. The racists perceive this as a threat to the city’s “Jewish character.” The astounding thing is that the city’s Arab residents also lent a hand to this grotesque move.

Jewish-Arab relations have not always been like this. In the 1930s, Arab inhabitants of Nazareth sought to have Jews move into their city. “This whole situation is no longer tenable. Nazareth needs people from the outside who will boost trade and settlement here,” representatives of the Nazareth clans wrote in a petition. “We welcome, or more to the point: We ask Jewish companies to send us different Jewish traders.”

The signatories to the petition from the Fahum, Gharib, Abdel Halim, Sharif Badawi and other clans, explained that “Nazareth needs 50 merchants who will rent shops and 50 families to move into homes, so they can compete with [the city’s] cruel and exploitative merchants.” They concluded their call: “On behalf of the vast majority of homeowners and consumers we welcome this aliya and hope that the enlightened Jews and their trading and financial companies will quickly heed our request.”

All of the Arab communities in the Galilee, including Nazareth, like to call themselves “Arus al-Jalil,” the Bride of the Galilee. If the people of Nazareth had a little imagination, they would also start calling themselves Lower Nof Hagalil. It would drive the Nazareth Illit folks crazy to have their racist branding backfire like that.

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