One Fine Day

Upper Nazareth Mayor Menachem Ariav woke up to find that he was the mayor of a mixed city.

Twenty-five years after taking office as mayor of Upper Nazareth, Menachem Ariav woke up last month to find that he was now the mayor of a mixed Jewish-Arab city. The High Follow-Up Committee for Arab Affairs in Israel had decided to grant representation in its institutions to the mixed cities of Acre, Haifa, Ramle, Lod, Jaffa, and Upper Nazareth. It was the first time that Upper Nazareth was described as a mixed city.

The change is not part of the plan for Ariav, who came to Upper Nazareth to fulfill David Ben-Gurion's vision. Still on file in the mayor's archive is a letter sent by Ben-Gurion in November 1962 to Yosef Weitz, head of the Jewish Agency's settlement division. "Your memorandum from 29.10.62, regarding an enclave settlement in the Galilee, is worrisome and startling and necessitates quick and forthright action, and substantial enlargement of the Jewish settlement in Upper Nazareth. Certainly not a mixed settlement, in other words, not a Jewish settlement in lower Nazareth."

Thirty-nine years later, only one part of the vision has been realized: the Jews are not going to lower Nazareth. In fact, since the events of October 2000, many of them willfully boycott the shops and markets of the largest Arab city in Israel. Conversely, Arabs are moving into Upper Nazareth in increasingly large numbers, a fact that provided the pretense for the Follow-Up Committee to define it as a mixed city.

"Very sorry," was Ariav's response last week to the change. There was not sorrow in his voice, only anger. "The Follow-Up Committee doesn't have the right to decide what is or isn't a mixed city. A mixed city is a city in which between 10 and 20 percent of the residents are Arab residents, a statistic that varies in accordance with the definitions of various government ministries; here we have about 8 [percent]."

But even what should be an objective numerical statistic becomes, in the emotionally loaded reality of the Galilee in general, and that of Nazareth and Upper Nazareth in particular, a bone of contention.

The Upper Nazareth Municipality is not keen to supply information. Ariav held the statistical data sheet handed to him by an aide close to his chest, and read out the numbers: 4,208 Arabs of a total population of 51,948, including seven Druze and 12 Circassians. In other words, not a mixed city.

The Arabs, on the other hand, cite figures of 6,000 to 6,500 Arabs in Upper Nazareth, which would justify its categorization as a mixed city. The mystery of the 2000 missing residents from the city's population rolls may be partly explained by obvious motives. Some Arabs who move to Upper Nazareth from Nazareth or other Arab settlements in the area maintain their original addresses, thereby preserving their right to send their children to the Arab schools in their hometowns.

Aside from that, everything is political. The Jews are waging a political campaign for Judaization of the Galilee. The Arabs make every effort to make any possible political gains from the demographic advantage. The gap between city hall's 8 percent and the 11 percent cited by Arab sources is the crux of the matter.

"So they say 11 percent," says Ariav. "They say all sorts of things. Three weeks ago, I passed by a demonstration by heads of Arab settlements in front of the Prime Minister's Office, and one of them jumped out at me and said: `We're going to create a Greater Nazareth that stretches from Yafia to Turan, and you'll be the leader of one of Nazareth's neighborhoods.' I heard what he was saying."

Ariav, who sees himself as the Jewish Salah e-Din of the Galilee, has no intention of serving as a neighborhood leader. Over the past decade, the waves of immigration from the former Soviet Union have helped to double the population of Upper Nazareth. Nearly half the city's residents are new immigrants. Since he took office, Ariav has succeeded in doubling the area under the city's administration.

By the year 2020 Upper Nazareth is planned to have a population of 100,000. The growth is not intended to be generated by an influx of Arab residents. "One friend brings another," says Ariav of the immigrants from the CIS. But the city nevertheless feels the need for a more extensive reservoir of human resources. Not long ago, the mayor visited Argentina, and 100 Argentinian immigrants are expected to settle in the city soon. Individual immigrants are also said to be on the way from Brazil and France. And a "moderate" religious community has applied for a permit to build a new neighborhood for a few hundred families, a development that is apt to alter the decidedly secular character of Upper Nazareth, which has seven-day public transit and a shopping mall open on the Sabbath.

"Traitors and collaborators"

What Upper Nazareth lacks are the urban trappings of a mixed city. Aside from one Arab community center, out of eight in the city, it has no mosque, no church, no signs in Arabic, no Arab-language school. The establishment of such a school is the most common demand voiced by Arab residents of the city.

Ariav opposes the idea. He asserts that there is no demand, that parents prefer to send their children to the private schools in Nazareth; then he says it's a matter for the Education Ministry to handle, that approving an Arab school in the city would require changes in the regulations. "I'm a Jewish district," says Ariav.

Salim Khouri, the sole representative on the city council of the List for Arab Rights, Coexistence, Peace and Equality, says that having a local Arab school is a basic right to which residents are entitled, and its inception would open the door to other public institutions, such as religious and cultural institutions.

That door can also be seen by the Jewish residents. "There won't be any Arab school here," says Arik Etkes, known around the city as "the wheeler-dealer" thanks to his ability to navigate the dense local political and social thicket. "There are enough groups that are opposed to it for the simple reason that they view the infiltration of Arabs here as a negative phenomenon." Asked what tools he has at his disposal to prevent the opening of the school, Etkes replies: "I think I know what they are, but I'm the last one to tell you what they are."

Tensions between Jews and Arabs in Upper Nazareth resurfaced following an interview given two weeks ago to a local newspaper by city council member Avraham Maman of the religious Basad (With God's Help) list. Maman labeled Jews who sell apartments to Arabs "traitors and collaborators." Maman elaborated on the perceived threat: he claimed that 80 percent of housing units in the city's southern neighborhood are occupied by Arabs; in the Ben-Gurion quarter, where he lives, Arabs occupy 15 of the 50 villas.

"They are always looking for apartments here," Maman rails. "I want to sell now, because I'm sinking in debt, and it's only Arabs who come to see the house. I get the feeling it's directed from above, maybe by Hamas. Where else would they get the financing?"

Actually, Arab settlement of Upper Nazareth is the effect of pressures from below. Nearby Arab cities and towns have a dearth of land reserves for construction, municipal services are in disarray, and infrastructure is wanting. "Arabs find good housing here, at especially low prices, with a wonderful view and good air. Compared to the urban neglect you find in Arab settlements, this is quality of life," says Salim Khouri.

Svetlana marries Shadwan

Upper Nazareth is decidedly different from any other mixed city in Israel. Jaffa, Acre, Ramle and Lod, and to a certain degree, Haifa, as well, were primarily Arab cities whose Arab residents left in 1948 and were repopulated with destitute Arab and Jewish residents after the war. Upper Nazareth is the opposite: a city established in 1959 as a Jewish wedge, with the openly declared aim of Judaizing the Galilee. Even the name Upper Nazareth was intended to convey the notion that it was the Jewish crown atop the historically Arab city. Ben-Gurion took pains to call it Nazareth, omitting the "Upper," essentially ignoring the existence of Arab Nazareth.

Much of the structural tension between the two cities still exists. The hostility between Ramez Jeryassi, mayor of Nazareth, and Menachem Ariav takes on near-epic proportions. Conversations with Jeryassi immediately devolve into personal attacks on Ariav and allegations about the establishment's clear discrimination in favor of Upper Nazareth. Every conversation with Ariav opens with his insistence that he does not want to malign Jeryassi, but immediately transmute into indictments of his counterpart. Nazareth's official Web site gives extensive play to a comparison between the affluence of Upper Nazareth and the privations of the Arab city.

The rivalry between the two came to a head in a dissonant argument that erupted at a Jewish-Arab conference for the institution of a civil covenant for tolerance, recently held at a Nazareth hotel. Jeryassi accused Ariav of stealing land and glorifying his city at the expense of nearby Arab settlements. Ariav suggested that Jeryassi learn from him how to devote himself to working strenuously on behalf of his residents instead of wasting energy on complaints and politics.

Slightly over a year ago, in October 2000, the two settlements suffered a traumatic head-on collision. Many Upper Nazareth residents, who felt hemmed in and threatened during the violent demonstrations of their Arab neighbors in the early days of the riots, embarked on a counter-demonstration on Yom Kippur, October 8. They broke windows of homes in Nazareth's eastern neighborhood, which in turn sparked an outcry by thousands of Arabs in Nazareth. Large mobs assembled on either side of Nazareth's "detour road" near the Lev Ha'ir mall, which in past years has been a meeting point for Jews from Upper Nazareth and Arabs from Nazareth.

The throngs exchanged curses and vicious slogans. After a few hours of standoff, the police, who were between the two groups, opened fire at the Arabs. Two Nazareth youths were shot dead.

The rupture in Jewish-Arab relations seemed beyond repair. But to Mansour Abed, a welder whose home in the eastern neighborhood was hit by the gunfire, said at the time, as if expressing a vain hope: "I think that any building with strong foundations can be rebuilt." Last week, a year after the trauma, Abed related that the severance of ties lasted for only a few weeks and that friendly relations between the young Jews and Arabs gradually resumed.

Even romantic links between young Arab men from Nazareth and young Jewish women from Upper Nazareth got back on track. Ludmilla (who asked that her family name not be revealed) and her family are a sort of Israeli telenovella that exemplifies the phenomenon. Ludmilla arrived in Israel from Belarus 11 years ago with her mother and two daughters, Tatyana and Svetlana. Tatyana married Boris, a Jewish immigrant, and now lives in Upper Nazareth. Svetlana, who has adopted the name Orly, married Shadwan, a Muslim from Nazareth, six years ago. As Ludmilla describes their first meeting, her eyes begin to shine: Orly was working in a cafe. Shadwan came in, as a customer, took one look and said that she was the woman he'd seen in a dream. The two fulfilled the dream in a Muslim wedding ceremony held in Ludmilla's small apartment in the presence of a kadi and 10 men.

At first, Ludmilla was not fond of the idea. "Svetichka," she appealed to her daughter, "Don't need. Israel is for Jews. Don't need Arabs." She is now proud of her extended family. Shadwan's brother, Najwan Grayeb, who owns a hair salon in Nazareth, was on Israel's national soccer team. Ludmilla proudly shows off newspaper clippings documenting the career of her daughter's brother-in-law, and even a picture from his wedding with to a former Arab beauty queen, from a Russian newspaper. She speaks warmly about the marriage of her daughter, who lives in a large house with the entire extended Grayeb family. Svetlana lives in the same house as Shadwan's cousin who is married to Marina, another Jewish woman. "They live very fine," Ludmilla says, summing up the family saga in her pidgin Hebrew. "Orly speaks good Arabic, and Shadwan now speaks Russian. Adi (her six-year-old grandson) speaks all the languages, knows exactly with whom to speak which language."

Ludmilla's family - like the Thai restaurant in Upper Nazareth where Arabs, immigrants and veterans all eat lunch - is a sort of model of what Upper Nazareth could be. It is a mixed city with no history of 1948, no traces of battles or expulsion like Ramle or Lod, no socioeconomic gaps that inspire hatred as in Jaffa, no destitution or poverty of Jews and Arabs as in Acre, and no inter-religious tensions. Based on what it doesn't have, and from certain developments, a blueprint for normal life could result, which would in turn be replicated in other cities that have the potential to become mixed, such as Be'er Sheva and Afula.

However, even in Upper Nazareth this remains, for now, just potential. In reality, an ill wind continues to blow through the city. Part of it is the result of harmful influence of settlements in the region, part may be attributed to local developments over the past year. The buds of the Jewish "militias" that sprouted in the city after October 2000 were forcefully smothered by the city fathers with the help of firm police action. The frenzied impulses were channeled into service in the Civil Guard, where advocates of Jewish defense serve alongside Arab volunteers.

Jewish resistance to Arab life in the city may not be organized, but is strong nevertheless. "I favor the approach that says coexistence can exist with good neighborly relations, but not in a mixture," says Arik Etkes. He describes the atmosphere in the city: "The way things are now, their extremists feed our extremists. One of the heads of a local Arab settlement, whose lands were expropriated by Upper Nazareth, swore to take revenge and populate Har Yona with Arabs, until the day comes that administration of the neighborhood will be in Arab hands. It's already happening in the neighborhood. Every Arab like him in turn feeds a Jew like Ze'ev Hartman."

Hartman sowed much hatred in Upper Nazareth when he led a local right-wing group in the late 1980s, and his candidacy was barred by the High Court of Justice in 1998. His racist campaign and removal from the public stage left mixed feelings in Upper Nazareth. On the one hand, it created the infrastructure for an extremist anti-Arab trend, but also set the limits of what is deemed legitimate.

In everyday life, however, the residents themselves determine the bounds of coexistence. Jews may grumble about the Arab hamulot (extended clans) that visit Upper Nazareth in the wake of their relatives who live in the city, and who "trample the parks," and complain about Arab youths who flee the stifling puritanical atmosphere of their own settlements and come to Upper Nazareth to drink alcohol and to "pick on" the Jewish girls, but they usually take the city as it is in stride.

Salah Safadi, a 23-year-old cellular phone salesman, is aware of the difficulties but also sees the advantages of life in Upper Nazareth. Safadi and his family live in Kramim. The neighborhood's original name, "Career Army Quarter," hints at the objective for which it was built. The Career Army Quarter is now almost entirely populated by longtime Arab residents of the city. This is where Salah grew up, where he went as a child to his neighbor, Menachem Ariav, to ask for - and receive - a soccer field, and where he intends to remain after his upcoming marriage.

The security tension has led to painstaking and uncomfortable scrutiny of the Arab residents. "I sometimes feel like a prisoner who can't go anywhere - you get stopped, checked, sometimes taken to the police station," says Safadi. Before last year's October events, he frequently went to mixed parties organized by a Jewish friend at a local pool hall. But in October, he met his friend near the club and his friend was shouting, "Death to the Arabs."

A year later, the incident is excused. Salah Safadi's Jewish friend invited him to his engagement party. "I'll keep on living here, because it's my home. It's calmer here than in Nazareth, there are better services, and the government has a better attitude toward the city. I'm certain that relations will get back to where they had been."