Moral Low Ground


Upper Nazareth Mayor Shimon Gapso: No Arab School on My Watch

The mayor of a town in northern Israel says he will not allow a school to be built for Israeli Arab children, despite the fact that Arabs make up about one-fifth of the town’s population.

Shimon Gapso, mayor of Upper Nazareth, says he refuses to allow the school to be built despite the fact that 1,900 Israeli Arab children must travel to schools outside the city or enroll in expensive private schools because there is no school for them in town.

Of the 52,000 people living in Upper Nazareth, which is located in Galiliee in northern Israel, 20 percent are Arabs. The Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) had submitted a request for a school earlier this month, citing the “basic right” of children to an education. ACRI also accuses Mayor Gapso of denying Upper Nazareth’s Israeli Arab citizens a “legitimate existence.”

“The lack of adequate schools infringes on the Arab residents’ right to accessible, available education and on the equality of allocating public and municipal resources,” a group of Arab parents said in the ACRI request.

“Our children don’t have a school to go to, we don’t have any schools here that operate in Arabic, which is their (the children’s) mother tongue,” Upper Nazareth resident Sawsan Hamed told TAFI TV. “It’s about time that this is addressed. We need a school for our children. We don’t want our children to have to continue to study far from home.”

But the town’s children won’t get a school anytime soon if Mayor Gapso has his way.

“Upper Nazareth was founded to make the Galilee Jewish and must preserve this role,” Gapso said in response to the ACRI request. Gapso compared the establishment of an Arab school in the town to the construction of a mosque or Muslim cemetery. He also said that the request for a school hid a “provocative nationalist statement intended to disrupt the status quo”

Upper Nazareth, or Nazareth Illit, was founded in 1957 to “safeguard the Jewish character of the Galilee” and to “demonstrate state sovereignty to the Arab population.” The town overlooks the city of Nazareth, which is known as the “Arab capital of Israel.” It is also the birthplace of Jesus Christ. Upper Nazareth was founded with the goal of “overpower[ing] Nazareth numerically, economically and politically,” according to historian Geremy Forman, although Nazareth still has around 30,000 more people.

Due to the lack of an Arab school in Upper Nazareth, the town’s Arab children must travel to schools further afield, mostly in Nazareth. But schools there are only allowed to accept a limited number of students from out of town, forcing many Arab parents to send their children to expensive private schools.

“The local authority and Education Ministry are hardly allocating any resources to the Arab children’s education, compared to the Jewish children’s education,” ACRI attorney Ashraf Elias wrote in a letter to Mayor Gapso.

Israeli Arabs, who number around 20 percent of the country’s population, are citizens who technically enjoy the same rights as Jews. But many Israeli Arabs feel like second-class citizens. There is widespread employment and housing discrimination against them, and a 2011 study commissioned by Israel’s Courts Administration found that Arabs are given jail sentences more frequently than Jews convicted of the same crimes. Arabs also receive longer sentences than Jews jailed for the same offenses.

Arabs have also been convicted of highly dubious ‘crimes’– a Palestinian man was found guilty of raping a Jewish woman after she had consensual sex with him under the false pretense that he was a Jew. “I would like to raise only one question with the judge,” asked liberal Israel commentator Gideon Levy. “What if this guy had been a Jew who pretended to be a Muslim and had sex with a Muslim woman? Would he have been convicted of rape? The answer is: of course not.”

There is also widespread Jewish racism against Israeli Arabs. In a 2007 ACRI poll, less than half of the Jewish respondents said they believed Arabs should have equal rights. More than half said Arabs should leave Israel, three quarters said they would not want to live in the same neighborhood as an Arab and the same percentage of Jewish youth said they believed that Arabs were “unclean.” A similar Dialog poll in 2012 found that nearly three quarters of Israeli Jews supported their government’s apartheid policies toward occupied Palestinian Arabs. More than half of the Jewish respondents to another poll agreed that a Jewish woman who marries an Arab man is committing a “betrayal of the country and the Jewish people.”

The very prospect of Jewish women dating Arab men has brought seething crowds of racist Jews into the streets of Israeli towns and cities. In Bat Yam, Jewish protesters called for death to Jews who date or sell homes to Arabs.

It is in this environment that Israeli Arabs must live. In Upper Nazareth, Mayor Gapso recently unleashed his wrath against Nazareth’s Arabs, who he accused of harboring “a nest of terrorism in the heart of Galilee… waiting for an opportunity to stab Israel in the back.” Gapso was infuriated that Israeli Arabs– and Jews– were protesting against Israel’s deadly attack against Gaza. Scores of innocent Palestinian civilians died during the weeklong bombardment, with Israeli government officials urging the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) to slaughter men, women and children alike and vowing to “bomb Gaza back to the Middle Ages.”

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