The saga of the virulently anti-Arab mayor of Upper Nazareth, Shimon Gapso, continues. Gapso, if you recall, recently rejected a request to set up a school for Palestinian children in his city, even though 20% of the population are now Palestinian citizens (mostly refugees from neighbouring Nazareth, forced out of their original city by a government “Judaisation” policy that has starved Nazareth of land). But the problem is that there are not enough school places in Nazareth to cope.
Now a major American Jewish philanthropist, Don Green, has told Gapso he will stop donating money to Upper Nazareth if the mayor maintains his no-Arab-school policy. The families’ largesse has paid for a community centre and a football stadium in the past.
What makes Gapso’s battle so fascinating is that it embodies on a small scale the same struggle waged by Israel’s founders. One almost has to feel a sympathy for Gapso, who is only trying to do noisily what generations of Israeli leaders have done on the national stage more discreetly. He is decried as a racist, while they are revered for establishing “the only democracy in the Middle East”.
He is right when he notes in a letter to Green: “Upper Nazareth was founded to Judaize the Galilee. That was its purpose and it remains so today. It is our mission every day.”
That mission is a national one too.
He is also echoing national policy when he states: “The wish to establish an Arab school in Upper Nazareth, when many Arab schools are a five-minute ride away, does not express the desire for education but rather ownership of the land. It is meant to radicalize nationalist sentiments.”
Israeli governments have all worked to corral the Palestinian population inside Israel into ever smaller spaces while nationalising the rest of the land – today 93% of it – for global Jewry as a way to prevent the minority from becoming empowered and asserting its national rights.
He also reproduces traditional Israeli stereotypes about the “dangerous, criminal Arab”. In his letter, he warns Green that a neighbourhood of Lod, another city where Palestinians starting living next to Jews, “turned into a crime-riddled, neglected, unpleasant place that is unsafe for the Jews who fled it.” In Nazareth, he adds, the arrival of Palestinian families has “caused many Jewish families to leave because for every person looking to buy real estate there is someone who will sell.”
In other words, Judaisation is unravelling in Upper Nazareth. And Gapso feels as passionately that it is his duty to stop this process as Israeli governments have felt it is their duty to ensure Israel stays a Jewish state. Any policy, however ugly, is justified when the stakes are seen to be this high.