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UK architects, planners and other construction industry professionals campaigning for a just peace in Israel/Palestine.


The myth of an undivided Jerusalem is collapsing under its own weight

Binyamin Netanyahu is misguided to believe a two-state Israel-Palestine solution is possible while keeping a deeply divided city intact

by Daniel Saideman          The Guardian:Comment is Free        8 January 2014

US Secretary John Kerry Visits Israel

The US secretary of state, John Kerry, with the Israeli prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, in Jerusalem last week. Photograph: Xinhua /Landov/Barcroft Media

As John Kerry's Israeli-Palestinian peace initiative moves into a decisive stage, two Jerusalem truths are becoming crystal clear. First, either the two-state solution will also take place within Jerusalem, or there will be no two-state solution at all. Second, any attempt to reach a permanent status agreement regarding Jerusalem that ignores the already existing, deeply rooted urban realities of this bi-national and divided city is doomed to failure.

These truths were on display on 22 October 2013, when Jerusalem held mayoral elections. The incumbent mayor, Nir Barkat, an up-and-coming political star in Israel's ideological right, was re-elected. His victory was convincing: Barkat received 51.9% of the vote, in comparison with the 44.6% received by his closest rival.

Barkat, along with the Israeli prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, is a vocal champion of "Jerusalem-the-eternal-capital-of-Israel-that-will-never-be-divided". Conceding that there have long been major inequities in the level of services between East and West Jerusalem, Barkat proudly claims to have made progress in narrowing the gaps, asserting that his efforts have met with satisfaction from Palestinian residents. Citing this accomplishment, Barkat claims to represent all residents of his city, both Israeli and Palestinian, and has said: "The vast majority of the Arabs in Jerusalem prefer to be on the Israeli side. They don't want the city divided."

At first glance, the 2013 municipal election results appear to support such claims. The number of votes Barkat received from the Palestinian sector in this election was 90% higher than what he received in 2008, winning him 46.9% of votes cast by Palestinians of East Jerusalem. Receiving a percentage of the vote slightly below that which he received from the Israeli sector, Barkat was well ahead of his closest rival, who received only 19.7% of the Palestinian vote.

A more careful look at the numbers, however, tells a very different story. There are approximately 157,382 eligible voters among the Palestinians of East Jerusalem. Of these, a total of 1,101 voted in the 2013 election – meaning a Palestinian voter turnout of only 0.7%. Barkat received 46.9% of these votes – a total of 516 votes, a mere 0.3% of the total vote of all eligible Palestinian voters. In short, Barkat's assertion that he "represents" all residents of Jerusalem is without basis in fact.

Some will argue that Palestinian residents of Jerusalem were intimidated into boycotting the election. This assertion is baseless. All organs of Palestinian authority and political organising in East Jerusalem have been crushed by the government of Israel. There is simply no Palestinian capacity in East Jerusalem to organise a campaign of intimidation, or of anything else of consequence. The Palestinians didn't vote in this election, just as they have refrained from voting in previous municipal elections, because they were making a statement about their own identities: "we are Palestinian, not Israeli".

The results in Israel's national elections for the Knesset, which took place on 22 January last year, are no less illuminating. In those elections, 28.4% of eligible Palestinian voters in East Jerusalem cast a ballot, a seemingly respectable number. A more careful look, once again, tells a different story – in this case a story of formal disenfranchisement.

Out of the approximate 157,382 Palestinian residents of Jerusalem of voting age, only 10,431 actually have the right to vote in Israel's national elections (a number that is artificially high, since it includes thousands of Israeli Arab citizens who moved to Jerusalem from areas in pre-1967 Israel, rather than native Palestinian East Jerusalemites). This means that the number of East Jerusalemite Palestinians entitled to vote in national elections hovers at around 5% of the voting-age Palestinian population of the city. Only 2,965 of the East Jerusalem Palestinians – 1.9% of the Palestinian population – voted in Israel's 2013 national elections, with another 95% denied the right to vote.

This bizarre situation exists because most Palestinians in "undivided Jerusalem" are legally classified as "permanent residents", rather than citizens of Israel. As such, they do not enjoy the right to vote in national elections. An estimated 13,000 Palestinians of all ages, out of a total Palestinian population of 293,000 (37% of Jerusalem's total population), have received Israeli citizenship.

By disenfranchising Palestinians of East Jerusalem from national elections, Israel has declared unequivocally that these residents of Israel's "undivided capital" are not, in fact, part of Israel's body politic. And by overwhelmingly refraining from voting in municipal elections, even when that right exists, Palestinians of East Jerusalem are emphatically agreeing.

The results of these two recent elections reveal the fundamental political truth of contemporary Jerusalem: the only place where Jerusalem is "the undivided capital of Israel" is in the fertile imaginations of ideologues such as Netanyahu and Barkat. Nowhere else in the world is there a prime minister so utterly detached from the daily realities of a city that he claims to be his nation's "exclusive" capital; and nowhere else is there a mayor so utterly disconnected from – and in denial about – the realities of the flesh-and-blood city over which he purports to preside.

Those engaged in the current negotiations can ignore these facts only at great peril. When Netanyahu says he supports the two-state outcome, but opposes anything less than an undivided Jerusalem under sole Israeli sovereignty, he is really saying: "I reject the two-state solution".

The myth of "undivided Jerusalem" is collapsing under the weight of its own fictions. Should the Kerry initiative – the last, best hope for the two-state solution – end in failure, Jerusalem will degenerate into the epicentre of a festering conflict, the arena of recurrent rounds of convulsive violence. But should, against all odds, these talks end in agreement, a new Jerusalem, rooted in its genuine political and urban realities, will emerge: a politically divided, bi-national city, the respective capitals of Israel and Palestine – which is the sine qua non of any permanent status agreement.





Every Jew should see the Bedouin issue as test of Israel's moral values

Why have the relocations and demolitions of Negev Bedouin homes, an issue not related to Israel's security or vexed questions such as "Who is a Jew?", aroused such strong feelings amongst Diaspora Jews activley engaged with Israel?

by Rabbi Jonathan Wittenberg        15 July 2013           Haaretz


Bedouin               Photo by Eliyahu Hershowitz

Should the Begin-Prawer plan become law, it will have an enormous effect on Israel’s Bedouin, with tens of villages destroyed and tens of thousands of people removed from their homes into poverty-stricken townships. This will be extremely painful for Israel's supporters in the Diaspora to observe.

That is why the progress of the bill through the Knesset is making such an impact well beyond the Negev, in Israel and abroad. In Britain, sixty-five rabbis from across the denominations, supporting the courageous lead of Israel’s Rabbis for Human Rights, signed a letter to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other senior ministers, asking them to re-consider their proposals. In the U.S., the Religious Action Centre of the Reform Movement, the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association, T’ruah, the Rabbinic Call for Human Rights, and thousands of individual rabbis and Jews have written in a similar vein.

We know that, for all the daily difficulties the country encounters, this Israel is not just the stuff of dreams. Countless Israelis put into practice in their daily lives the values of justice and compassion. ‘That’s only a bubble’, someone recently told me. If so, it’s a big bubble or many bubbles. One has only to think of Israel’s extraordinary number of chesed organisations. To the outsider it can be hard to credit how many groups work across the painful divisions between Arab and Jew, Israeli and Palestinian and continue to affirm in spite of all the conflicts the core Jewish value of universal human dignity in the image of God.

Why should this issue, which does not threaten Israel’s immediate security and has no influence over the vexed questions of ‘Who is a Jew?’ with its obvious Diaspora dimensions, have aroused such strong feelings amongst Jews actively engaged with Israel?

The matter goes to the heart of how we identify with Israel, and of the nature of Israel as a society. Living abroad, rightly or wrongly, we don’t experience Israel through the everyday realities of its traffic jams, cafes, and hamsins. We identify with Israel because we are family. We identify via those hyper-sensitive antennae which quadruple our anxiety the moment we hear Israel mentioned on the news. Primarily, we identify with Israel as Jews.

To some the slogan is ‘Israel, right or wrong’. To a few it is, sadly and unjustly, ‘Israel, usually wrong’. But for most of us, in spite of all the fears and frustrations, Israel remains the country where our Jewish values are, should and shall be realized. We still hope for and believe in the Israel whose founders, less than three years after the Holocaust, presented to the world the remarkable vision of a country which "will uphold the full social and political equality of all its citizens, without distinction of religion, race, or gender; will guarantee full freedom of worship, conscience, culture and education" and live and legislate according to "the precepts of liberty, justice and peace taught by the Prophets of Israel."

We know that, for all the daily difficulties the country encounters, this Israel is not just the stuff of dreams. Countless Israelis put into practice in their daily lives the values of justice and compassion. ‘That’s only a bubble’, someone recently told me. If so, it’s a big bubble or many bubbles. One has only to think of Israel’s extraordinary number of chesed organisations. To the outsider it can be hard to credit how many groups work across the painful divisions between Arab and Jew, Israeli and Palestinian and continue to affirm in spite of all the conflicts the core Jewish value of universal human dignity in the image of God.

That is why so many of us care when Israel threatens to pass a law so deeply at odds with its own principles. "So long as Israel claims to be a Jewish state, it must act according to Jewish moral values," commented Gidon Remba, Director of the U.S.-based Campaign for Bedouin-Jewish Justice. "The way a country treats its most disadvantaged citizens defines its moral character, and so too its Jewish character as a bearer of the Jewish moral tradition."

It’s not just that Diaspora Jews are pained by the prospect of watching on their national television Israeli bulldozers flattening villages and forcing thousands of men, women and children from their homes, actions which the Begin-Prawer plan could indeed entail. The matter goes deeper than the damage that would be done to Israel’s international reputation.

It relates to a profound moral instinct that Israel’s safety depends not only on military superiority and the skill and courage of its armed forces, but is connected in some unquantifiable way to its faithfulness to the age-old Jewish values of justice and human dignity.

It connects to those historical experiences of exile and persecution which Jews carry subliminally in their souls. As Theodore Bikel, who played Tevye in countless productions of Fiddler on the Roof, said, "What hurts is the fact that the very people who are telling them [the Bedouin] to “Get out” are the descendents of the people of Anatevka. My people."

I’ve been to El Arakib, demolished fifty times, spoken with its leaders and seen footage of its destruction. It was a shocking experience. "You mustn’t believe everything the Bedouin claim", I was told. Yet Bedouin land ownership was honoured by the Ottomans and the British, and pre-State aerial photographs document extensive Bedouin agriculture. There is much misinformation. A recent poll conducted by Panelresearch showed that 70% of Israelis thought on average that the Bedouin wanted forty per cent of the Negev. In fact, they are asking for just 5.4% of the area. When told this fact most Israelis felt the Bedouin claims were reasonable.

It’s beyond dispute that the situation of Israel’s Bedouin requires legislation. Their villages can’t remain unrecognised, without the provision of electricity and hygiene services other Israelis take for granted. After all, the Bedouin are full citizens and many have traditionally served in the IDF. What the thousands of voices from abroad and within Israel are asking for is a proper partnership between Israel and the Bedouin leadership in agreeing a solution. As Rabbi Jill Jacobs of T’ruah writes, "Demolishing homes, forcing people off their land, and denying basic government services contradict the moral values…on which the State of Israel was founded."

Surely the Knesset, and the Jewish community around the world, will not allow that to happen.

Jonathan Wittenberg is a rabbi of the New North London Synagogue and has strong family, communal and charitable connections with Israel. 






Drafting the blueprint for Palestinian refugees' right of return

A conference last week at the Eretz Israel Museum, of all places, showed that the plans made for Palestininians to rebuild and move into the villages abandoned in 1948

by Gideon Levy and Alex Levac

Salameh Heibi

Salameh Heibi at the conference this week. "here I am. I live five minutes from Maghar and I'm a refugee. Someone else lives in your place and you're a refugee."

For two days, participants in the international conference of the Zochrot organization, which took place this week at the Eretz Israel Museum in Tel Aviv, discussed how to promote the return of the Palestinian refugees, how to plan their villages that are to be rebuilt, and whether their houses will be similar to those that were destroyed.

Was it a hallucination?

There was probably no more appropriate venue than this: the Eretz Israel Museum, with vestiges of the lovely Palestinian stone houses belonging to the village of Sheikh Munis, standing among its exhibition pavilions; a place that describes itself on its official website as a “multidisciplinary museum dealing with the history and culture of the country.” Even the posters that were hung outside on the street where the museum is located spoke of “Cultural Memory” − although they were referring to the seventh Israeli Ceramics Biennale.

There was probably no less appropriate time: When the only issue on the agenda is the Iranian bomb; when the possibility of a resolution of the conflict with the Palestinians seems more distant than ever; and when the term “right of return” is far more threatening to Israelis than the term “the Iranian bomb” − this was the time and this was the place for holding the Zochrot conference, under the headline of “From Truth to Redress,” with its declared intention of promoting the return of the Palestinian refugees to their lost villages.

About 200 Israelis, Jews and Arabs, along with several guests from abroad, participated in the event. Had a passerby found himself there, he would have been persuaded to believe that the return was imminent, any day now. Someone in the lobby said, “It’s a little bizarre” − but under the radar, there is a tiny minority of Israelis, Jews and mainly Arabs, who are working seriously toward making it all happen.

For one, the Udna ‏(Our Return‏) project is in full force. There are already several groups of young Israeli Arabs, third- and fourth-generation refugees, who are not only dreaming about return but are also planning it, recreating their grandparents’ villages in their imagination and planning their reconstruction.

And, in fact, the most powerful part of this conference was the revelation of the existence of such groups − descendants of the uprooted, refugees in their own country − who already have architectural models of the villages slated to be rebuilt. Some of these people even live now among their ruins, in a quasi-underground manner. In a country where there are people who are seriously planning the construction of the Third Temple; where an outpost is established on every barren hill of the West Bank; where every furrow of land is sacred to the Jews − there is room for them, too, of course.

But the construction of the Third Temple or the establishment of innumerable illegal settlements threatens the Israelis far less than the implementation of past decisions by the High Court of Justice and Israeli governments to restore the uprooted residents of Ikrit, for example, to their land. It turns out that a group of 15 young people has been living for about two years in the village’s church; they are descendants of the original uprooted residents, Arab hilltop youth, who are determined to rebuild the village.

“Transitional justice” is the legal term for what they dream of, and they tried this week ‏(in vain‏) to pursue justice in the museum.

When Aziz al-Touri, a representative of the unrecognized Negev village of Al-Araqib, asked why Jews are allowed to move to the Negev, to kibbutzim, moshavim and isolated farms there, but the Bedouin are not allowed to live in their villages, the question of justice echoed through the museum in full force, reminding everyone that, in effect, 1948 never ended. Over the past three years the huts of Al-Araqib have been rebuilt 59 times. That, too, constitutes a return of sorts, after Israel demolished them 58 times, an unmarked Guinness record, perhaps, that few people in this country have even heard about.

The question of justice also reverberated when the homes of tens of thousands of citizens of the nascent state were destroyed in 1948 and afterward. When some of these people were forced to abandon their houses in the heat of battle, when some were promised they could return quickly. To date, no Jewish communities were built on the ruins of some of their villages − and still Israel stubbornly refuses to allow even them, and not only the refugees in the camps and the residents of the diaspora, to return to their land. Why? After all, they aren’t a threat to Israel’s “Jewish character.”

Amnon Neumann, a former fighter for the Palmach − the pre-state Jewish commando force of the Haganah − opened the second day of the Zochrot conference with a manifesto he wrote against Zionism and in favor of theone-state solution. A video clip that was produced by Zochrot and screened at the gathering brought his testimony about 1948: He took part in the occupation and expulsion campaigns in the south of the country, between Sderot and Gaza.

“In all the Arab villages in the south,” he said in the clip, “almost nobody fought. The villagers were so poor, so miserable, that they didn’t even have weapons ... The flight of these residents began when we started to clean up the routes used by those accompanying the convoys. Then we began to expel them, and in the end they fled on their own. They didn’t think they were fleeing for a long time. They didn’t think that they wouldn’t return. Nor did anyone imagine that an entire nation wouldn’t return. We began expelling them, and then we began to spread out to the sides ... We expelled them because of Zionist ideology. Plain and simple: We came to inherit the land and that’s why we didn’t bring them back ...

“I don’t want to get into these things, these aren’t things that you get into. Why? Because I did it. During that period, I didn’t see anything wrong with it. I received the same education as everyone else. I carried it out faithfully, and if they told me things that I don’t want to mention, I did them without having any doubts at all. Without thinking twice. I’ve been eating myself up for 50-60 years already, but what was done was done. It was done on orders.”

Dr. Munir Nuseibah, a lecturer and researcher in law from Al-Quds University, spoke of the right of return of the tens of thousands of Palestinians who over the years lost their right to return to the Gaza Strip, where Israel continues to control the population registry.

Amir Mashkar, a young man of 19, told about his and his friends’ outpost in the Ikrit church: “There was no longer a war, the war was over, there weren’t any confrontations, and suddenly the village disappeared. Only the church and the cemetery remained ... to this day we bury our dead in Ikrit. We return to our village only as corpses.”

Everything he and his friends try to plant or build around the church is uprooted or destroyed by the Israel Lands Administration. The land was confiscated, after all. One day, members of Mashkar’s group put down synthetic grass, imagined there was a soccer stadium there, played against the team Ahi Nazareth − and won. Ikrit the champion. “Oh, tanks and cannons, we are returning to Ikrit,” they wrote on the victory poster.

Said Salameh Heibi, 30, a mother of three with a bachelor’s degree in economics, an Israeli woman descended from the community of Maghar, who lives today in the northern town of Kabul ‏(south of Acre‏) and wears a black kerchief and keffiyeh: “They always said that the young people would forget. The young people won’t forget: Here I am. I live five minutes from Maghar and I’m a refugee. Someone else lives in your place and you’re a refugee. It’s not easy. Every time I open the window I can see the mountain that belonged to my family. I don’t aspire to return to the entire territory − others deserve something, too − but the right of return is a right, not a dream, a right that’s not up for negotiation.

“They succeeded in 1948, but we won’t forget. The generation after us won’t forget. We visit there almost every day. For a Maghari who meets another Maghari, it’s like meeting a cousin. I feel as though I was expelled. This land is ours and it caused pain to my father. I saw him crying many times because of it, every time they said: Maghar. It’s not easy. We’re the third generation and we’re saying: Enough.”

Another young man, whose family comes from Lajoun, in Wadi Ara, presented a digitized preview of his ancestral village, which he intends to rebuild: cobblestone “Dutch” streets, stylish stone houses, pergolas, promenades, water canals − a lovely village.

Michal Ran, an American doctoral student from the University of Chicago, presented her vision of return, urban planning based on research of several villages. She says that al-Ruways, a village northeast of Haifa, can be rebuilt, that nobody lives on its ruins and all its descendants live in Tamra. Ran is deliberating as to whether to build high-rises, and recommends developing green spaces and pedestrian paths.

And Aziz al-Touri, of Al-Araqib, spoke about the wheat fields that the Israel Lands Administration sprayed with poison from a plane in the late 1990s. And also about the special forces of the Israel Police, the planes, horses, bulldozers, commandos, the Border Police and members of its counter-terrorism unit − all of whom came in the middle of the night on July 27, 2010, three generations removed from 1948, and destroyed his village. Since then, he said, they repeatedly destroy, and the residents repeatedly rebuild and repeatedly return.

The vision of the pergolas and the promenades in Lajoun simply evaporated.





Fear and loathing in Upper Nazareth

By   11 August  2013  Haaretz

Arab and Jewish residents respond to Mayor Shimon Gispo, who is determined to keep his town predominantly Jewish.

Shimon Gapso - Ilan Assayag

Upper Nazareth Mayor Shimon Gapso in court on Dec. 27, 2010. Photo by Ilan Assayag

Ghanem Mahroum, 60, from Nazareth, very much wants to move to the neighboring city, Upper Nazareth. "I feel better here; in our city there's a lot of crime, noise, and our municipality is not good enough. I'd be happy to live with Jews. If I have enough money I'll move here." His son, who is a lawyer, is already about to make the move from Nazareth to Upper Nazareth.

Mahroum is a boxing coach in his town and owner of a café in Upper Nazareth. Two days ago he went from one place of business to another in Upper Nazareth, posting notices about an international boxing competition to take place 10 days from now in Nazareth. Teams from Austria, Hungary, Germany and Israel will be participating. "Since I was a young boxer I've always been proud to represent Israel. The State of Israel is a good country that allows its citizens to advance and develop. It's a shame that a man like [Upper Nazareth Mayor Shimon] Gapso comes with his pronouncements and spoils the atmosphere. I think that he should get a lot of practice before he re-enters the election arena because the way it looks to me, in the next round he's going to suffer a knockout."

With two months to go before local council elections, the Upper Nazareth mayor succeeded last week in dictating the agenda. For him, the main issue is relations between Jewish and Arab residents of town. His campaign, which began about a week and a half ago, features posters with pictures of leftwing MKs Ilan Gilon (Meretz), Haneen Zoabi (Balad) and Ahmed Tibi (United Arab List-Ta'al) and quotes they have made in the past against Gapso. Later the posters were removed and replaced by Gapso's replies, such as the sign "Upper Nazareth will be Jewish forever; no more shutting our eyes, no more clinging to the law allowing every citizen to live wherever they want. This is the time to protect our home."

"There's a war atmosphere in the city," said an Arab business owner who requested anonymity. "This time things have reached a climax, but there have been statements against us for a long time and they are already creating a bad atmosphere here." He claimed that as a result of that atmosphere his young son was humiliated and harassed in his kindergarten. "Other children called him a 'stinking Arab,' among other things, and we had to take him out of the kindergarten [in Upper Nazareth] and transfer him to one in Nazareth."

Gil Eliahu

A view of Upper Nazareth. Photo by Gil Eliahu

Attorney Sari Khoury, an Upper Nazareth resident, also says: "Our mayor wants us, the Arabs, to feel inferior in this city. He's quite a provocateur who makes sure to emphasize again and again what a racist he is." At the same time Khoury emphasized that "On a daily basis, I would describe my neighborly relations with the Jews as very good. There really is no difference in my relationship with a Jewish or an Arab neighbor."

Khoury's Jewish neighbors in the Hakramim neighborhood in northwest Upper Nazareth constitute a minority in a neighborhood where the Arabs are the vast majority. It's a spacious neighborhood of private homes whose residents are independent professionals: doctors, lawyers etc. An Arab resident of the neighborhood who asked not to be identified by name has been living there for 24 years. Only a road separates Hakramim from Nazareth, but "the conditions here are far better," she says. "In Nazareth, there's chaos."

She was not perturbed by the uproar of recent days and dismissed it. "I love the city and the country, and there are racists everywhere. All I want is to live in peace and quiet," she said, but she admitted that members of her family, including her adult children who are university students, are disturbed by the issue.

No demographic plot

Dr. Ra’ed Getas has lived in Hakramim for 26 years, having moved to Upper Nazareth from the Arab town of Rama after being appointed head of the Ear, Nose and Throat department at the Holy Family Hospital in Nazareth. He is one of the two Arab representatives on the city council (which has 17 members) for the Arab Joint Party for Coexistence, a local merger of the Hadash and Balad parties. He expects the party to win three or even four seats in the coming election.

"Every Arab resident came to Upper Nazareth for his own reasons. After all, it's a basic right of every person,” says Getas. “There's no big plan here to bring about a demographic revolution.”

According to Getas, the Arab population of the city can be divided into four groups: residents who lived in the area where Hakramim was established even before the area was annexed from Nazareth to Upper Nazareth in 1957; those who came due to a housing shortage in Nazareth and the other Arab communities in the area; people of means – engineers, doctors and others – who wanted to live in a modern city that meets their needs; and a small group, on a lower socioeconomic level, composed mainly of widows and divorcees who wanted to get away from their old milieu.

Five years ago there was a different atmosphere in the city: Getas and his partner on the Arab list, Dr. Shukri Awada, were the first to sign a coalition agreement with Gapso. At the same time Gapso appointed an Arab resident as an adviser on Arab affairs. Getas says that in return for their support they were promised that a committee would be formed to help establish an Arab school in the city, but he says that the promise was broken and after they left the coalition the anti-Arab statements steadily increased until peaking in recent days.

Gapso claims that his actions are based on his desire to preserve the Jewish character of the city. "Anyone can come to live here, but he should be aware that it's a Jewish city, just as the State of Israel is a Jewish state. The demand to open an Arab school does not come from a genuine need - after all, most of the Arabs students from Upper Nazareth study in private schools in Nazareth. What they want is to hoist a flag and change the character of the city."

Gapso is very happy watching the Israeli flag flutter. "That's a breeze that's worth a picture," he said at the sight of the wind blowing a huge Israeli flag, one of seven that he has placed around the city. One of them is at the entrance to Hakramim, near Getas' house. The cost of maintenance, mainly replacing the flags that become tattered from the wind, in addition to the cost of installing the huge flagpoles, is thousands of shekels per month.

A new Haredi neighborhood

During the years of Gapso's tenure, which began in 2008, the Arab population of the city has grown from 15.2 percent to 19 percent, according to the Central Bureau of Statistics. Before the number reaches 20 percent, Gapso promises to carry out his plan to bring 3,000 Jewish families to the new ultra-Orthodox neighborhood of Har Yona Gimmel.

Gapso considers the project his baby, and in recent years he has worked energetically among the ministers of the Haredi parties to promote construction of the neighborhood as a way to prevent the city from becoming a mixed Arab-Jewish city. He realized that his attempts to change the name of the city to Lev Hagalil, Kokhav Hagalil or Hod Hagalil (Heart of the Galilee, Star of the Galilee, Glory of the Galilee, respectively) and decorating the streets with Stars of David on the lamp posts, large Hanukkah menorahs on the holiday and other Jewish symbols, are not enough to change the demographic situation.

The city of Upper Nazareth is basically secular. About half of its residents are immigrants from the Former Soviet Union, and on Shabbat there is public transportation. Gapso has declared in the past (on the website of the Halamish – Haredim for Judea and Samaria settlers) that "quite a few people in the city, especially the Arabs, don't like it [the establishment of the Haredi neighborhood] to put it mildly. But the facts speak for themselves and most of the population, even the secular community, knows that Haredim are preferable to Arabs."

Shahar, a resident who recently finished his army service, identifies with the mayor. "When Menahem was mayor [Menahem Ariav, who was the mayor of Upper Nazareth for 32 years] the situation was ideal. I don't want Nazareth and Upper Nazareth to intermingle. We aren't welcome in Nazareth, while they come here, drive through the street, honk at a girl and she gets into the car. Shimon is doing good work, but I still don't understand whether he is for or against an Arab school."

Shahar is standing at the entrance to a store in a shopping center in the southern part of the city, whose residents are immigrants from the former Soviet Union, veteran Israelis and an Arab minority. Most of the stores are empty. While in the commercial center adjacent to Hakramim they speak mainly Arabic, in this center the prominent language is Russian. Shahar notes that he has four Arab neighbors “who are good, quiet neighbors who live their own lives. But suddenly, since Shimon was elected, more and more Arabs are coming to the city." He says that among the Jewish population "the city is becoming a senior citizens' home. The young people are leaving for the center or for Haifa and the Krayot [Haifa's satellite cities]."

But he and his mother, who joined the conversation, said that "If Shimon isn't elected the city will become a city with an Arab majority. Shimon knows how to hold his own against those who are slandering him. He's an honest man ... who’s interested in your welfare, knows the residents and respects them. The problem is that he doesn't receive support and they bother him all the time."

Along with the anger at "the daily shootings from Nazareth, with a bullet even fired into our house once, and the call of the muezzin at 4 A.M.," what bothered the Shahar and his mother most was the feeling that his future in the city is unclear. "The young people are leaving because there are no places of entertainment here and there's no work. If you find work here at a salary of NIS 4,000, say thank you." Shahar is already planning the trip to the Far East, followed by studies that will take him out of the city, in search of a better fuiture.

The Rassco Commercial Center, which was built 50 years ago and was last renovated 20 years ago, looks neglected, but has more customers. Dollar stores (which sell everything for two shekels) are an attraction. Shortly before Eid al Fitr (the three-day festival marking the end of Ramadan) many Arab families have come to shop. Michael Tomasis, owner of a falafel stand in Rassco for the past 50 years, understands "the minorities who didn't come here to conquer the city, but just want a better quality of life. In Nazareth they were suffocated; there's nowhere to build there, so they come here. They didn't come here to occupy us."

But as one of Gapso's known supporters he claimed that "they didn't understand his statements; he has nothing against them, but he's not ashamed that he wants Upper Nazareth to be a Jewish city. He respects them and gives them fair and equal treatment. The relations in the city between Arabs and Jews are excellent."

Moshe, who is eating at the falafel stand, said that he came to the city from Jerusalem in the late 1970s "in order to Judaize the Galilee." According to his theory "Everyone is wrong. Shimon loves Arabs and their situation improved during his tenure, and because he's worried about this image among the Jews, it's as though he's saying: 'Look what the leftists are saying about me.' The strong population has left Upper Nazareth, and his campaign is geared to the weak population that remained here, including Russians who like a strong leader like Putin. But his talk will actually cause an Arab school to be opened here in another two years rather than in another 20."



We can’t lose a democracy we never had

The illusion of democracy in Israel is just one of the many illusions that we Israelis have been educated to believe.

By Tsafi Saar    4 Augist 2013       Haaretz

An IDF soldier with Palestinians

An IDF soldier with Palestinians: Abrogating rights and freedoms. Photo by Emil Salman

Many dirges have been heard lately lamenting the death of democracy on account of the governability law that passed its first reading in the Knesset this past week. There is reason to lament; it is indeed a bad and dangerous piece of legislation. But for something to die, it must have once lived. Has there been democracy in Israel before the governability was passed? The answer is no. For Israel's entire 65-year existence it has not been a democratic state. From its founding until 1966 Israel imposed martial law on the Arab communities in its territory. Since the occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip in 1967 until today, Israel has ruled over millions of Palestinian inhabitants in these territories – an occupied population with its basic freedoms and rights abrogated.

There has been an illusion of democracy here, or alternatively, a democracy for Jews only. This of course is a contradiction in terms. This is just one of the many illusions, which we Israelis have been educated to believe. It isn't easy to discover how much of life and education here are full of indoctrination, because lightly scratching the surface reveals what is just a cover for an entirely different reality. Some of us discover this at an early age, others later. There are also those who will never discover this, perhaps they would even prefer not to see it.

Among the prominent examples are myths like "making the desert bloom," or the statement, "A land without a people for a people without a land" - basic concepts in Zionism that express a worldview that ignored the land's inhabitants. There is "Hebrew labor," the aspiration that Jews who settled the land would work with their own hands instead of managing others, which is perceived to be something positive until we understand that it means excluding native Arabs from work. Another phenomenon placed on a pedestal is the revival of the Hebrew language. While it was a blessed miracle, it also was enabled by the pushing aside of many other languages as well as other cultures, not infrequently with violence – and this already sounds less heartwarming.

There are also clichés like "our hand is outstretched in peace," as our politicians are wont to say while they are still polishing up ruins. In other versions, still in use today, there are mantras like "no partner for peace." And who can forget "the world's most moral army"? The same army that just recently detained a 5-year-old Palestinian child for investigation, and the state that plans to evict 1,300 Palestinians from their homes in the south Hebron hills to save time and resources, just to mention two examples among countless others.

These are bothersome thoughts. Is it possible that everything we were raised on, or at least most of it, is mistaken? What is the significance of this? And does asking these questions undermine the fact of our existence of here? If our existence here must be based on a strong fist, on pushing out others, on nationalism, chauvinism and militarism, then the answer is yes. But is this really the case?

In the history of Zionism there were other options besides that of Ben-Gurion-style force. For example, the path shown by professors Zvi Ben-Dor Benite and Moshe Behar in their recently published book "Modern Middle Eastern Jewish Thought: Writings on Identity, Politics, and Culture." Jewish intellectuals of Middle Eastern origin at the beginning of the 20th century warned against adopting a European arrogance to the land's inhabitants and called for respectful dialogue with them. But their words fell on deaf ears. The Brit Shalom faction of Hugo Bergmann and Gershom Scholem also proposed another way in the 1930s that was not accepted.

The state established here was not, despite its pretensions, "the sole democracy in the Middle East." It appears that the first condition for really fixing this situation, if that is still possible, is the recognition that we did not lose democracy now. It never resided here.


The path not taken; Left, Hugo Bergmann co-founder of  Brit Shalom, 1925-48,  which  advocated “dual-national” areas where Jews and Arabs could live under equal conditions. Right, Zvi Ben-Dor Benite, co-author of a book on modern middle-eastern Jewish thinkers who warned against Jews adopting “a European arrogance to the land’s inhabitants”.

Notes and links
Brit Shalom (Covenant of Peace)
Founded in Palestine in 1925 as a pressure group for peaceful coexistence between Arabs and Jews to be achieved by renunciation of the Zionist aim of creating a Jewish state. It advocated a bi-national state. Henrietta Szold , Arthur Ruppin, Martin Buber, Hugo Bergmann, Gershom Scholem, Albert Einstein and Judah Magnes were among their members or supporters.

From The History of the original Brit Shalom, founded 1925

“If we do not give every member of the public the opportunity of considering the Jewish-Arab question, we will be committing, I think, an unpardonable sin. Why do I think so? For two reasons. First: it was Judaism, which brought me to Zionism and I cannot but believe that Judaism, Religion as I understand it, is our moral code; and Judaism bids us to find a way in common with the Arabs living in this country. Secondly: I am almost certain that at the end of the war it will not be easier that it is now to shape the development of our life in the way we desire by bearing our influence on those who determine the course of affairs. The more I return to this matter, the more do I become convinced that politically as well as morally, the Jewish-Arab question is the decisive question. I insist that we must reach an understanding of this question, and we can succeed in this only if we are offered opportunities of meeting and discussing the matter. I think that even at this late hour we must endeavour, through IHUD, to find ways of speaking and conferring about this question with clear insight and full knowledge of its importance. And that paragraph of national discipline printed on the Shekel cannot deprive us of the right to speak and understand.”
Henrietta Szold (1942)

Modern Middle Eastern Thought: Writings on Identity, Politics, and Culture, 1893–1958, Edited by Moshe Behar and Zvi Ben-Dor Benite
Published by Brandeis University Press and University Press of New England, 2013

Blurb from The Tauber Institute, Brandeis university

Modern Middle Eastern Jewish ThoughtMoshe Behar and Zvi Ben-Dor Benite present Jewish culture and politics situated within overlapping Arabic, Islamic, and colonial contexts. The authors invite the reader to reconsider contemporary evocations of Levantine, Mizrahi, and Arab Jewish identities against the backdrop of writings by earlier Middle Eastern Jewish intellectuals who critically assessed or contested the implications of Western presence and Western Jewish presence in the Middle East; religion and secularization; and the rise of nationalism, communism, and Zionism, as well as the State of Israel.