The Mayor of Upper Nazareth, Shimon Gapso, apparently claims that his remarks as reported by a local Arab paper were ‘taken out of context.’ He was quoted as saying that if he’d been in charge during the October 2000 clashes, more Arab citizens would have been killed, that Upper Nazareth would never become a mixed Jewish-Arab city (despite the fact that 16% of its residents are Arabs) and that he would never allow a mosque to be built in the city. It’s not clear to me in which context these remarks would have been more acceptable, but I want to leave that to one side for the moment.
Despite the high population growth of the Arab community, Israel consistently limits the building of new houses in Arab towns and neighborhoods. As a consequence, Arab families frequently find themselves without the possibility of living in the towns where they grew up and want to live. They therefore rent or buy apartments in Jewish neighborhoods. If we won’t allow building in Nazareth itself, clearly Arab families will move to nearby Upper Nazareth. If the services provided in Nazareth are inadequate, families that can afford to do so will move to areas where the rubbish is collected regularly, the streets are cleaned, and there are parks for their children to play in.
As well as incredible racism, Gapso’s comments reveal the discrimination and racism inherent in Israel’s ongoing policies towards the Palestinian population of Israel. We don’t allow building in Arab neighborhoods and towns, but God forbid Arabs should move into Jewish towns and neighborhoods. Where do we want them to live? It’s no wonder that many Palestinians feel that Israel’s policies are consciously designed to make them leave the country. I sincerely hope this is not our conscious policy, but rather reflects a lack of coherency. The truth is that even the minority of Israelis who truly believe in equality and coexistence haven’t worked out what they would like this coexistence to look like. Do we want ‘separate but equal’ or are we looking for a fully integrated society?
There are many problems inherent in a fully integrated society, including severe loss of culture and identity for the minority populations. Palestinians in Israel already feel their language and culture are under threat. How much more would this be so if Israel’s towns and villages were fully integrated? Even Israel’s Jewish groups can’t seem to get along living side by side. On the other hand, is ‘separate but equal’ ever really possible?
Research during Ireland’s ongoing conflict found that children there were so used to the conflict that they had difficulty visualizing peace – they could only see peace as the absence of conflict. Many Israeli social change organizations would be hard pushed to present a coherent image of what they would like Israel to be. If we don’t have a vision, how can we expect to work towards it? It’s very clear that we condemn Gapso’s position. It’s time, however, that we sat down and worked out a positive vision of our own for Israel’s future.