Officially, no Palestinians live in the ‘Jewish’ city of Upper Nazareth. The city’s elegant website appears only in Hebrew and in Russian. When I was there recently, I called a spokesperson to ask about numbers but he wouldn’t give me a straight answer. ‘I am standing in front of a house with “There is no power but in God” written in Quranic Arabic over the door,’ I said. ‘And I know there are two Palestinians on your city council.’ ‘We still do not have enough information about the numbers,’ was the reply.
In fact, according to the Arab Association for Human Rights, 20 per cent of the city’s population are Palestinians. Most of them moved from the crowded city of old Nazareth at the bottom of the hill and from the villages surrounding it. Some of them had to pay as much as £500,000 for a house, three times the market value. The people selling up are Russian immigrants gravitating towards Tel Aviv. There are no Palestinian schools or kindergartens, so the roads between Nazareth and Upper Nazareth are overcrowded in rush hour. But the non-existent 20 per cent are represented on the council and, Israel being Israel, the two Palestinian councillors are in a weird coalition with the ultra-right-wing party of Avigdor Liberman. The mayor needed their support in order to defeat the Labour Party. They demanded, and received, a promise that an Arab school would be built in Upper Nazareth. The mayor is nonetheless committed to the ‘Judaisation’ – i.e. the de-Arabisation – of his city, and Liberman declared in August that stopping the immigration of Arabs into Nazareth, as he calls it, is a national priority.
The city was built in the 1950s. David Ben-Gurion was outraged by the presence of so many Arabs in the Galilee when he toured the region in 1953, a few days before he retired for a year and half from his premiership. He appointed the director general of the Ministry of Defence, Shimon Peres, to ‘Judaise’ the Galilee using emergency regulations that allowed the army to confiscate land from the Palestinians. Upper Nazareth opened in 1957, and senior army officers were billeted there.
The area covered by Upper Nazareth has quadrupled since its creation. Each expansion was on land expropriated from Arabs. Its 50,000 inhabitants live in a dynamic urban space that keeps expanding and developing. The 70,000 Palestinians of old Nazareth live in a city half the size that is not allowed to expand by a single square metre; indeed, one of its western hilltops was recently requisitioned for Upper Nazareth.
The villages around Nazareth were first targeted by Yitzhak Rabin’s 1976 plan of Judaisation, Yehud Ha-Galil. In greater Nazareth the main tactic was to disrupt the natural geographical continuity between Palestinian villages by driving Jewish wedges between them. The Jews came, but the Palestinians did not leave, so a second wave of Judaisation began in 2001, under Peres and Ariel Sharon. This wasn’t very successful either; Jews preferred to live in Tel Aviv.
The present attempt is motivated by the failure of the previous policies to make the Galilee in general, and Nazareth in particular, Jewish. People and economies move in mysterious ways: well-off Palestinians began buying houses in the citadel that was built to evict them. Benjamin Netanyahu regards this as a grave threat to Israel’s national security. Local politicians are even blunter. ‘If we lose the Jewish majority in the Galilee this is the end of the Jewish state,’ Motti Dotan, a member of the Labour Party, said recently. ‘I would like to imagine a Galilee without Arabs: no thefts, no crimes . . . we will have normal life.’ The racist mood in Israel absolves the government from any inhibitions that may have restricted its actions in the past.
Now ecologists, industrialists and academics have been drafted in. The Jewish National Fund is behind the initiative, along with the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel. The aim of diminishing the Palestinian presence in the Galilee is also fully endorsed by the prestigious union of Israeli wine producers, which has adopted a plan prepared by leading academics from the Israel Institute of Technology. Published in 2003, the plan calls for the Jewish ‘takeover’ of the Galilee. ‘It is either them or us,’ it begins. ‘The land problems in the Galilee proved that any territory not taken by Zionist elements is going to be coveted by non-Zionists.’
The gist of what they propose is to seize strategically important land by force and hold onto it until Jews settle on it. The director general of AMPA, an electrical manufacturer, recently said that his company now not only makes refrigerators but is also actively supporting the ‘Judaisation of the Galilee’ by building new communities in the area for AMPA’s veterans. ‘We are not ashamed to say that our plans have a Zionist element.’
The Palestinian village of Ayn Mahil, east of Nazareth and adjacent to Upper Nazareth, is now accessible only by one road, and it goes through a Jewish religious neighbourhood in Upper Nazareth: on the Day of Atonement, the people of Ayn Mahil cannot leave or enter their village. They will soon be encircled by a new town called Shacharit (which means ‘dawn’ in Hebrew but is also the name of the first Jewish prayer of the day). Ten thousand ultra-Orthodox Jews will be settled there and the hope is that they will rectify the ‘unfavourable’ demographic balance, as well as cut Ayn Mahil off from the greater Nazareth area. The village’s ancient olive groves have been uprooted in preparation for the building work. A new road network will ensure that other villages are separated from each other and from Nazareth.
Under emergency powers granted to him as minister of national infrastructure in the 1990s, Sharon ordered the building of a new heavy industrial site, Ziporit, on land expropriated from the Palestinians and close to several villages. Ziporit includes a glass factory and an aluminium works; according to international law, neither can be built near where people live. The closest of the villages is Mashad: since the opening of the site the number of deaths from cancer there has risen by 40 per cent.