Selfies with Santa, fake trees, and businesses striving to stay afloat as Bethlehem celebrates Christmas

Israel/Palestine
on 28 Comments

By mid-afternoon on Christmas Eve crowds had thinned from the limestone plaza that is Manger Square, buffering Bethlehem’s Church of the Nativity and its winding old city. International tourists lingered, but the bulk of the celebrators were Palestinians, Christian and Muslim alike. A handful of costumed children under ten years old sold candies for 25 cents.

Inside Manger Square was the beloved Christmas tree. Even though it is a fake, it is a gem. Hoops of wire were mounted into a cone, which was then draped with a plastic tarp plastered with something that looks like evergreen branches. Except for the loose straw stuffing spilling from its base, it looked authentic.

Conifers are not indigenous to this part of the Middle East, and so all of the Palestinian Christmas trees are fakes. Similarly, in Ramallah, the seat of the Palestinian Authority, the municipal Christmas tree that fills a busy traffic circle leaves much to be desired. It is strung with circles of red lights and there are bulbs too, although the lowest among them were said to be have been ripped off, stolen by locals.

In the past there was an international effort to bring a real live tree to Bethlehem. Yet under the occupation, even the donation of a Christmas tree turned out to be a project that had to be triangulated with the Israeli authorities. During the Oslo Accords era when excitement was high that a Palestinian state would emerge through negotiations, Norway wanted to donate a tree to the occupied Palestinian territories as a symbol of peace to come. The Israeli authorities said no, citing the possible transfer of disease inside of the European wood, according to a New York Times report in 1993. Now, over 2 decades later, as statehood is again being debated, and European parliaments have recognized Palestine in droves over recent weeks, Bethlehem is at its frailest.

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(Photo: Allison Deger)

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(Photo: Allison Deger)

 

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(Photo: Allison Deger)

But none of the pilgrims seemed to notice the fake trees or lack of scheduled events. There were guitar sing-a-longs as the crowds filled the time before midnight mass, to be attended by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. Bordering Manger Square, an advertisement hung from Bethlehem Peace Center, boasting of low-cost attractions: free wifi and “selfies with Santa.”

Next to the Christmas tree sat a life-size nativity scene where pilgrims and locals waited their turn to have a picture taken standing next to wise men or the Virgin Mary.

The highlight of Christmas Eve afternoon was greeting the Latin Patriarch at Manger Square. The scene quickly turned into a scuffle between police and local Palestinians including uniformed marching band performers. The cause of the brawl: the crowds had pushed into the police lines that guarded the church official.

Reporting on the GroundIn years past Palestinian Christians would walk from Bethlehem to one of the region’s oldest monasteries, Mar Elias, situated between Jerusalem and Bethlehem. Today that walk is impossible due to settler roads. Instead, the church elder is driven into Bethlehem and Mar Elias is made accessible to tourists via a free bus provided by Israel. Passing it on my way to Bethlehem, an Israeli border police Jeep was parked in the front, with an Israeli flag mounted to the roof.

Indeed, the day before Christmas was muted compared to past festivals. Tourism is down in the West Bank and Israel, and at a crippling low in Bethlehem.

City officials had decided a more subdued chorus of events would be appropriate following a rough year of Gaza’s 50-day summer war and a wave of violent attacks in Jerusalem in the late fall. More broadly, Christians are suffering across the region. Ten years ago there were over 2 million Christians in Syria and Iraq. Now that number has been reduced to a quarter of its former size and is shrinking every day. For Bethlehem a majority of the original Palestinian Christian residents have left the West Bank. While before 1948 they amounted to 20 percent of the overall Palestinian population, now only two percent of full time West Bank residents are Palestinian Christians. Their exile and waves of emigration is felt through the desolate streets of Bethlehem and its pew benches.

Father Ibrahim Faltas said his congregation at the Church of the Nativity is disappearing. “Without Christians in the holy land all this church will be is a museum,” he told Al Jazeera.

Bethlehem remains a major destination for tourists from around the world.

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(Photo: Allison Deger)

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(Photo: Allison Deger)

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(Photo: Allison Deger)

“In Bethlehem this is where it all started. Just like any visitor to Rome will still stop at the Vatican, even if you are not a Christian,” said Fadi Kattan, 37, a travel expert who spoke while seated at a café just off of Manger Square. Kattan’s background is in the private sector, but now he consults with the Palestinian government. A native to the Bethlehem area, he aspires to build up the West Bank tourism industry, the only market he sees that has major potential growth while Israel’s occupation remains intact.

Well over half of all visitors to Israel and the West Bank are Christian and of them, 86% visit Bethlehem, according to the Israeli Ministry of Tourism. But Bethlehem has not been able to benefit from the growing Christian tourism market to its own city, in part because Israel built and controls the market.

The Palestinian economy is not able to capture most of the financial benefit flowing from the 2.5 million Christian visitors to Israeli ports each year. The tourists parachute in and out of Bethlehem, staying at hotels in Jerusalem and traveling with Israeli or international tourist agencies. Around 80% of Bethlehem travelers come in organized groups, according to the Israeli Ministry of Tourism. Despite the numbers, their presence is only felt inside of Manger Square and the few city blocks beyond it. Otherwise, in the Christmas season Bethlehem is a ghost town. Even so, “2013 was our best year in ten years,” said Kattan.

Palestinians have tried to ramp up their tourism industry, but they cannot compete against Israeli companies that can offer trips to both Israel and Christian sites in the West Bank. While Palestinians need special permits to enter Jerusalem and Israel, Kattan said, Israeli tour guides do not need permission to bring groups into the occupied territory.

During the Oslo Accords an arrangement was outlined for reciprocity in travel for Palestinian and Israeli guides so long as they passed a general licensing test. However, the Israelis only issued 42 permits for Palestinian guides even though 200 have passed the exam. Kattan said the Israelis haven’t offered an explanation as to why the stopped issuing entry permits for Palestinian guides, but he did say when two guides pasted away a few years ago the Israelis issued two more licenses.

And this year Israel ran 24-hour free shuttle buses between Jerusalem and Bethlehem. This means, while the foreign travelers do come to Bethlehem, they are not there for long and they are not opening their purses inside of the Palestinian territories. Moreover, Bethlehem is not easy to get to. Pilgrims must pass through Israeli checkpoints and navigation is always an issue once inside the district.  “There are 21 Israeli settlements accommodating nearly 105,000 Israeli settlers on Palestinian lands in the Bethlehem Governorate,” said the Palestinian Liberation Organization’s Negotiations Affairs Department in a Christmas statement. As well, Israel’s separation wall spans more than 80 kilometers inside of the Bethlehem district.

Yet Bethlehem needs worshipers to come during the Christmas season to stay afloat. Businesses rely in the Christmas tourists to clear the red each year. The local economy is not able to self-sustain. There are three refugee camps inside of Bethlehem. Unemployment is at 19.4%, the highest in the West Bank, according to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics.

At Manger Square Hotel, occupancy is down. The clientele reflects both the drop in tourism this year and the difficulties Palestinian businesses have in courting international customers. On Christmas even hotel manager Luay Tawil, 34, from nearby Beit Sahour said occupancy was at 99%. Yet most of his overnight stays are from Palestinian citizens who live inside of Israel.

“This is the greatest location,” said Tawil, who explained his hotel is the closest one to the Church of Nativity and his model for keeping it filled is “to give good customer service” in hopes of attracting repeat visitors. It seems to have worked. While we spoke Palestinian families from Israel who are regular guests stopped to greet Tawil. But even with repeat visitors, Manger Square Hotel has a slim margin of profit and has not tapped into the influx of international tourists. “To break even we need about 35-percent occupancy,” he said, reflecting the year would close at a dismal 50% occupancy.

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(Photo: Allison Deger)

 

 

About Allison Deger

Allison Deger is the Assistant Editor of Mondoweiss.net. Follow her on twitter at @allissoncd.

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28 Responses

  1. just
    December 26, 2014, 3:10 pm

    I’m glad I was able to visit and stay there years ago… doesn’t Israel know that Christians have a right to be in the Holy Land?

    Israel desecrates and ruins everything that is indigenous to Palestine/ the Palestinians.

    Your article is superb and ever so sad.

    (I guess JNF couldn’t be bothered to donate one of their tree thingys~ they’re too busy uprooting/stealing/burning indigenous Palestinian olive trees with their buddies)

  2. Bumblebye
    December 26, 2014, 5:19 pm

    Picture 5, little boy’s sweatshirt: Where is my playground?
    A reminder of Israel’s wanton destruction of children’s play areas and equipment. Whatever it is, whoever it belongs to (except, of course, Jewish Israelis!), unless it serves the interests of the zionist state it will be vulnerable to destruction!

  3. Daniel Rich
    December 26, 2014, 6:44 pm

    1) BBC Grossly Misrepresents Facts Regarding Israel’s Almost Daily Violations Of Gaza Ceasefire [even Santa is down]

    yet

    2) The BBC’s director of television Danny Cohen said “I’ve never felt so uncomfortable being a Jew”.

    No, not in London, but at the Jerusalem Cinematheque,

    My advice to DC; do your aliyah to Israel and f*** off [given the fact that you don’t give a rat’s ass about all the killing and destruction the Apartheid State is doing in ‘your’ name].. Oh, and see the above nr. 1.

  4. Daniel Rich
    December 26, 2014, 6:54 pm

    Note to editor,

    Q: The Israeli authorities said no, citing the possible transfer of disease inside of the European wood, according to a New York Times report in 1993. Now, over a decade later,

    R: That should be …’over 2 decades later.’ [1993 -2014]

  5. Walid
    December 26, 2014, 10:45 pm

    In a nutshell, over a million Christians spend hundreds of millions annually visiting the Holy Land but Israel arranges it so 90% of their tourist dollars are spent in Israel. Israeli checkpoint delays are avoided by the free shuttle busses between Jerusalem and Bethlehem and tourist are whisked away out of Bethlehem and back to Israel as soon as the Church of the Nativity is visited by not allowing them the extra time to visit and buy souvenirs from local shops.

    To add insult to injury, Israel is itself spending millions in expanding Chritian- tourist attractions such as visits to the banks of the Jordan where it’s said Jesus was baptized or the hiking and biking “Gospel Trail” in the Galilee to attract Christians to walk where Jesus walked. The Israeli Tourism Ministry that has a special religious affairs department to focus on the lucrative Christian tourist trade has launched Christian-themed websites and a YouTube channel where visitors share their spiritual experiences. The government also provides free trips for government officials and religious leaders from Latin America, Africa and Europe to help generate interest by word of mouth.

    The Tourism Ministry also promotes a Christmas Eve alternative to Bethlehem by inviting pilgrims and foreign diplomats to the Israeli city of Nazareth to enjoy a Christmas market, parade, fireworks display and jolly Santa Claus for the kids. On average, Christian tourists spend 40% than non-Christians ones on their trips to Israel.

    And Israel keeps sucking the life out of the Christians while spreading the hasbara on how Muslims are chasing them out of Palestine.

    • Kay24
      December 26, 2014, 11:31 pm

      They have no shame. They are evil elements, who think nothing of selling Palestinians their own water that they have had access to for years. They apparently have minimized the Nazareth area so that Christians and tourists have nothing to spend their time around, and leave it quickly. It makes me wonder if our evangelicals/Christian zionists in the US are ignorant about the discrimination against Christians, or are they willing to overlook it because after all the Jews are going to put out the red carpet for the next coming?

      • Walid
        December 27, 2014, 9:12 am

        “They apparently have minimized the Nazareth area so that Christians and tourists have nothing to spend their time around, and leave it quickly.”

        Kay, curiously, Syria before the war on it in 2011 used to do the same with Lebanon when it bussed-in tourists to the historic and religious sites and bussed the back the same day to Syria to sleep in the hotels there rather than spend a few days in Lebanon. Souvenir shops and restaurants in Lebanon were bypassed by the Syrian tour operators. Syria used to market “Visit Syria and see Lebanon and Jordan too for the same price”.

      • jon s
        December 27, 2014, 4:48 pm

        Compliments to Allison for the photos from Bethlehem.

        Kay, “They apparently have minimized the Nazareth area…” – what does that mean? How is Nazareth minimized?

      • Daniel Rich
        December 27, 2014, 6:49 pm

        @ jon s,

        Q: How is Nazareth minimized?

        R: The same way Palestine is minimized: one hilltop, one road, one dunam at a time, to fully reclaim Ersetzt Yisrahell in the end.

      • adele
        December 29, 2014, 3:58 pm

        This is an excellent overview by Jonathan Cook of the apartheid developments in Nazareth/Upper Nazareth. As usual, there is lots of demographic engineering being used by Israel to constrain Palestinian population growth and advance the Judaization objective in the area. It is lengthy but a very worthwhile read.

        Nazareth Dispatch
        by Jonathan Cook
        published in MER267 (Summer 2013 edition)

        They are Israel’s Siamese twin cities, forced into an uncomfortable pairing more than half a century ago. Nazareth and Natzrat Illit, or Upper Nazareth in English, almost share a name. Although formally separated by a ring road, Israel has tied their fates together. Each is engaged in a battle with the other, from which, it seems, given the zero-sum terms of the Zionist project, only one can emerge as victor — and survivor.

        Outside Israel, few have heard of Upper Nazareth. But for millions of Christians, Nazareth is identified with one of the most important stories of the New Testament: the Annunciation, the moment when the Angel Gabriel revealed to Mary that she was carrying the son of God in her womb. Nazareth is where Jesus is said to have spent most of his life. Each year, its churches attract hundreds of thousands of foreign visitors, mostly Christian pilgrims.

        Nazareth also enjoys a doubly unique status among the 1.4 million-strong Palestinian minority in Israel. It is the only Palestinian city to have survived the nakba, the great dispossession of 1948, with most of its inhabitants in situ. And, though today a majority of its 80,000 residents are Muslim — many of them descended from refugees who sought sanctuary in the city from those same events — Nazareth is still home to the largest Christian Palestinian community in the country.

        A 2012 survey showed that, of the 125,000 Palestinian Christians in Israel and occupied East Jerusalem, about a fifth were to be found in Nazareth — nearly twice the number living in any other community. Christians comprise slightly less than 2 percent of Israel’s population, down from 8 percent of Palestine’s population in 1946, under the British Mandate.

        The need for Upper Nazareth — Illit in Hebrew means both “above” and “superior” — was born of a last-minute failure of nerve by Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion. The inhabitants of hundreds of Palestinian communities were expelled or fled during the nakba. But when the Israeli army massed against Nazareth in mid-July 1948, Ben-Gurion stayed the hand of his commanders, fearful that the flight of local Christians and Israel’s takeover of the holy sites would incur the wrath of the Vatican and alienate his key international allies. Instead, Nazareth was allowed to surrender.

        A few years later, in 1956, Ben-Gurion ordered construction of Upper Nazareth’s first neighborhoods after vast swathes of Nazareth’s farmland had been confiscated in the “public interest.” Upper Nazareth was the flagship of the Judaization of the Galilee program, establishing the blueprint for the later settlement project in the Occupied Territories. Its role was to corral its Palestinian neighbor to prevent it from realizing its potential as the political and cultural capital of the Palestinians inside Israel.

        Upper Nazareth was supposed to diminish Nazareth in several ways. After 1948, Nazareth was surrounded by seven surviving Palestinian villages. Without the state’s intervention, it would have merged with them, becoming the core of a conurbation today comprising a quarter-million inhabitants. Aerial views of Upper Nazareth show how its land-hungry tentacles of housing estates and industrial zones served to isolate Nazareth and separate it from its hinterland.

        Under British rule, Nazareth had been the administrative capital of the Galilee, home to government offices and local courts. But these services were soon relocated to the new Jewish city. Extensive industrial zones were created there, as was a shopping mall to serve both communities. Upper Nazareth, unlike Nazareth, was even made a tourism priority zone, encouraging the building of the first chain hotel in either city (Nazareth would have to wait until the 1990s for an upgrade in status). The transparent goal was to starve Nazareth of funds, redirecting resources to its Jewish twin.

        Upper Nazareth’s first homes and its administrative buildings, including the municipality, were located on a bluff above Nazareth. Just as with the settlements of the West Bank, its role was to stand watch over the Palestinian community below. Doubtless the choice of site was partly an act of psychological warfare, intended to convey a sense of Upper Nazareth’s superiority and invulnerability. But it also allowed Israeli officials to monitor developments in Nazareth, reporting violations of repressive and discriminatory planning rules designed to limit the Palestinian city’s growth.

        In the state’s early years, a military governor of the Galilee, Col. Mikhael Mikhael, confided that the rationale for establishing Upper Nazareth was to “swallow up” Nazareth and transfer “the center of gravity of life” to the Jewish city. [1] The Biblical city’s fate was supposed to align with that of other post-1948 Palestinian cities: Labeled “mixed cities,” they were in truth Judaized cities with a ghetto-like suburb of deprived Palestinians attached.

        Struggles of Judaization
        More than five decades on, Upper Nazareth has clearly failed to achieve its goals; its Palestinian twin enjoys too many historical privileges to be easily defeated.

        True, Upper Nazareth drastically limited Nazareth’s room for expansion, forcing hundreds of families to build houses illegally and live with the consequent fines and threat of home demolition. Meanwhile, Israel successfully starved Nazareth of the economic benefits rightfully due it from tourism: Most visitors, shipped in on buses, spend less than an hour wandering its main church before being shepherded on to the many hotels and restaurants in the nearby Jewish city of Tiberias.

        But Nazareth enjoyed the fruits of its other Christian institutions, ensuring its emergence as the Palestinian economic hub of the Galilee. Three hospitals, founded by religious charities more than a century ago, mean that patients from across the region head to Nazareth for treatment. More importantly, Nazareth’s success has been underpinned by a dozen private schools, set up by religious orders before Israel’s creation. Catering to Christian and Muslim pupils, these schools bypass the hugely disadvantaged and intellectually restrictive separate education system for Palestinian children, and are largely responsible for the emergence of Nazareth’s middle class. They educate the doctors and nurses, lawyers, hi-tech engineers and entrepreneurs who populate the city and have thrived in the face of state-sponsored adversity.

        By contrast, Upper Nazareth, despite being endlessly pampered, has struggled in its Judaization mission. Rather than becoming the Galilee’s metropolis, it still counts a population of no more than 55,000, a majority of them recent immigrants from the former Soviet Union directed to the city by Zionist agencies. These immigrants soon understand that they have been deposited in the “periphery,” next to Israel’s largest concentration of Palestinians, who, in Israeli culture, stand for all that is alien, primitive and menacing. Once acculturated, these immigrants seek to move south toward Tel Aviv and its sprawling suburbs. Since the late 1990s, no new sources of immigration have emerged to replace them.

        The gradual exodus from Upper Nazareth, combined with Nazareth’s growing middle class and stifling overcrowding, has created a unique problem for the Judaization program. Rather than swallowing Nazareth, Upper Nazareth is being slowly swallowed by its Palestinian neighbor. Wealthy Nazarenes, often Christians unable to build a home in their city legally, are paying above-market prices to buy the homes of Upper Nazareth’s departing Jews.

        “Code 20”
        Since 2005, the Israeli government has quietly classified Upper Nazareth under “code 20,” the designation for an ethnically mixed city. [2] Its mayor, Shimon Gapso, a far-right ally of former Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, has conceded that his city is only 82 percent Jewish; others suggest that as many as one in four residents may now be Palestinian.

        The migration of Palestinians into Upper Nazareth has been underway for more than a decade now. Gapso was elected four years ago on an unashamedly anti-Arab platform, including a plan — later abandoned after legal advice — to set up a municipal fund to buy “Jewish homes” to prevent their “takeover” by Palestinian buyers.

        In the spring of 2013, as Upper Nazareth heads toward a local election in November, he has set about erecting a dozen outsize Israeli flags at every road intersection between the two cities. Nazareth residents understand the message: “Keep out!”

        Late in 2012, after Nazareth staged a protest against Israel’s attack on Gaza, Operation Pillar of Cloud, Gapso made headlines calling the city “a nest of terror” and demanding that the government declare it “a city hostile to the state of Israel.” Ideally, its residents should be expelled to Gaza, he added, but if that was not possible the government should instead cut off all funding. [3] State prosecutors rejected demands to investigate Gapso for racist incitement.

        A rumor circulating in Nazareth holds that Gapso has become so unhinged in his hatred of his Palestinian neighbors that he assumed the display of flags would provoke attempts to burn them down, thereby proving his point about the threat posed by Nazareth to the state and his own city. He was to be disappointed.

        More concretely, Gapso has repudiated the designation of his city as ethnically and religiously mixed. He has refused to allow a mosque or church to be built, or to allot a section of the municipal cemetery for non-Jews. In the winter of 2010 he went public with his ban on Christmas trees in public buildings, backed by the city’s rabbi, Isaiah Herzl, who said any such tree would be “offensive to Jewish eyes.” [4] His officials have also failed to implement a 2002 court ruling to erect road signs in Arabic as well as Hebrew, leading the Supreme Court in 2011 to hold the city in contempt.

        The latest row concerns Gapso’s refusal to approve an Arabic-language school in Upper Nazareth. The city’s Palestinian children, now said to number nearly 2,000, are forced to scramble for places in Nazareth’s heavily oversubscribed private schools. When Israel’s largest human rights group, the Association of Civil Rights in Israel, protested in January that Palestinian residents were entitled to equal educational provision, Gapso called the demand “a provocative nationalist statement.” [5] The Education Ministry has so far declined to intervene.

        Unsettled State of Affairs
        In May, Asher Levy, a resident of Upper Nazareth, staged a surreal political protest masquerading as performance art outside the city’s fortress-like municipal building. Captured, as is now inevitable, on YouTube, he drinks two liters of milk dyed Israeli flag-blue, as officials, including Gapso, are lured outside by the commotion.

        At first, Gapso seems intent on befriending Levy, but after he is ignored, the mayor petulantly withdraws inside the building. The milk consumed, Levy reads out a pamphlet entitled “Upper Nazareth: A Jewish Identity Forever” sent by Gapso to the city’s residents in April, in time for Israel’s Independence Day. Intermittently, Levy vomits the blue milk into a bowl and down the front of his white T-shirt, recreating a debased Israeli flag on his chest.

        Gapso’s pamphlet gives voice to his racist paranoia. “No more shutting of the eyes, no more nostalgic clinging to the law that allows each and every citizen to live where he or she desires. This is the time to guard our home!… All requests for foreign characteristics in the city are refused.… We have placed Israeli flags in the entrances to the city so that people will know that Nazareth Illit is a Jewish city.”

        Citing similar sentiments from Gapso, a January 20 Haaretz editorial castigated the mayor for his “benighted racist position.” But the newspaper, like Levy, misses the point. Gapso is simply following the Zionist imperative laid out by Ben-Gurion five decades ago to keep Upper Nazareth—like the Galilee—Jewish. Echoes of the city founders’ dogma can be heard in Gapso’s explanation to a disillusioned American funder: “Upper Nazareth was founded to Judaize the Galilee. That was its purpose and it remains so today.” [6]

        Although the spotlight remains firmly on the mayor, it is clear he has the full backing of the Israeli government. In December 2012, Joseph Shapira, an ombudsman known as the state comptroller, who monitors state institutions and local authorities, issued a report on Upper Nazareth. He found that, unbeknownst to local council members, Gapso had been employing an extremist settler rabbi from Hebron, Hillel Horowitz, since May 2010 to advise him on “settlement affairs.” The post, paying $55,000 a year, plus a car and generous expenses, was never approved by the city treasurer, the legal adviser or council members; Gapso bypassed them all and agreed upon the job description in a secret deal with the Interior Ministry. [7]

        Horowitz, along with Uri Ariel, a far-right Knesset member representing the settlers, has helped Gapso set up in the city the first hesder yeshiva, a religious seminary that combines Bible study with military service and is popular with the children of extremist settlers. Forty students have been recruited so far. In late 2010, Horowitz also moved 15 families evacuated from Gaza during the 2005 disengagement into an abandoned school building, in violation of planning laws and safety regulations.

        The biggest project overseen by Horowitz, however, was arranged with the Housing Ministry. Tenders have been issued for a new neighborhood, comprising 3,000 homes, for the ultra-Orthodox, Jewish religious fundamentalists known as the Haredim.

        Given the large size of Haredi families, typically with eight or more children, Gapso is hoping to swell the city’s population almost overnight by 60 percent, and correspondingly shrink the proportion of Palestinians in Upper Nazareth. In an April interview, Gapso said: “I am a secular Jew and yet I am interested in having ultra-Orthodox residents here. That’s the only way to reduce the percentage of the Arab population in the city to some 10 percent.” [8]

        But as Mohammed Zeidan of the Nazareth-based Human Rights Association points out, the high birth rate among the Haredim will not only change demographics in relation to Palestinian residents; it will transform them for the existing, largely secular Jewish population, too. In a decade or two, Upper Nazareth will be a city with a dominant and rapidly growing religious majority.

        Gapso cannot be unaware of the Haredim’s behavior in other cities where they predominate. In their neighborhoods in Jerusalem, for example, drivers risk being stoned if they use their cars during the Sabbath. The Haredim have also been prepared to use violence against women to enforce modesty rules and against shops accused of violating religious codes.

        Palestinians in Nazareth are already imagining such scenarios in Upper Nazareth, and concluding — as Gapso presumably hoped they would — that the future is too uncertain to risk seeking a home there, even if the only other choice is an illegal home in Nazareth. The flow of migrants to Upper Nazareth may be about to be staunched. Meanwhile, the existing Palestinian population of Upper Nazareth, as well as its secular Jews, are wondering what is in store for them.

        Gapso remains unrepentant. Noting that the Galilee is an area where a Jewish majority survives only precariously, he said: “In my eyes, the struggle for a Jewish majority in the Galilee is far more important than our presence in Judea and Samaria [the West Bank]. If we lose the battle here, we will lose it everywhere throughout the country.” [9]

        In Gapso’s worst imaginings, Upper Nazareth may be celebrating — a generation hence — its first Christian mayor. And like the foolish homeowner struggling with an infestation of vermin, Gapso is set on burning down the house to rid himself of his problem.

        http://www.merip.org/mer/mer267/nazareth-dispatch

    • just
      December 26, 2014, 11:48 pm

      Like everything else that Israel destroys or steals, they make a profit on it, pretending all the while that they are the originators of all things good.

      They profit/revel in the misery of the indigenous people.

      Blast Gaza x3 in rapid succession & make the rebuilding impossible until they find a way for the world to turn their eyes away while they pocket the money. I think there is a slight chance that this won’t happen this time. Of course, they should foot the entire bill~ only in this way will they not be so eager to destroy it again. Meanwhile, the survivors of the latest massacre continue to suffer in abject misery.

      Sins heaped upon sins.

      • oldgeezer
        December 27, 2014, 12:23 am

        “pretending all the while that they are the originators of all things good. ”

        Not totally true.

        They also pretend they are the victims despite the lopsided damage to civilians. And that is the meme portrayed by much of the media.

      • just
        December 27, 2014, 12:36 am

        True.

      • jon s
        December 29, 2014, 7:34 am

        I still don’t see how Nazareth is “minimized”.
        The municipal area?
        The population?
        The economy?

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nazareth

      • Zofia
        December 29, 2014, 12:12 pm

        Jon… better than wikipedia…. try this:
        1.Overlooking Nazareth: The Ethnography of Exclusion in Galilee, by Dan Rabinowitz
        2.Reapproaching Borders: New Perspectives on the Study of Israel-Palestine, edited by Sandra Marlene Sufian, Mark LeVine- for example chapter no 3
        3.Coffins on Our Shoulders: The Experience of the Palestinian Citizens of Israel, by Dan Rabinowitz and Khawla Abu-Baker
        Shorter info:
        Even Middle-Class Arabs Get Cold Shoulder From Jews in Israeli Town in: http://forward.com/articles/179025/even-middle-class-arabs-get-cold-shoulder-from-jew/?p=all

        Nazareth, the neglected city of Jesus in: http://electronicintifada.net/content/nazareth-neglected-city-jesus/7431

      • Annie Robbins
        December 29, 2014, 1:26 pm

        thank you so much zofia, and for your other recent list too.

      • Mooser
        December 30, 2014, 3:34 pm

        Thanks, Zofia.

  6. Walid
    December 27, 2014, 8:49 am

    Oldgeezer, you want victims? It’s Christmas and one has to feel sorry for those poor misunderstod Israeli victims that are at the receiving end of a massive Christmas campaign against them by European-funded NGOs.
    From the so very Zionist “NGO Monitor”:

    “COME ALL YE HATERS: NGO EXPLOITATION OF RELIGIOUS THEMES TO DEMONIZE ISRAEL

    NGO Monitor
    December 23, 2014

    Overview
    At the height of the holiday season, NGOs (non-government organizations), well-known charities, and church groups once again are exploiting Christmas to conduct political warfare against Israel. In 2014, groups such as Pax Christi, Sabeel, Amos Trust, Holy Land Trust, Israel Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD), Adalah-NY, Wi’iam, and Bethlehem Bible College are using religious themes to advance immoral anti-Israel campaigns, such as BDS (boycott, divestment, and sanctions). In some instances, the rhetoric used reflects antisemitic theology and sentiments such as comparing Israel to 1st century Romans, portraying Israel as inherently oppressive, and referring to the “tribal god” of Judaism.

    The NGOs discussed in this report use offensive and inflammatory rhetoric in Christmas carols, holiday messages and cards, nativity scenes, and other products. This year, a common theme is the promotion of anti-Israel political advocacy under the guise of religious obligation and motivation.

    Some of the NGOs, including Kairos, Sabeel, Jerusalem Inter Church Center, Wi’am, and St. Yves, are listed by the PLO as “Spokespeople for Christmas in Bethlehem.”

    The abuse of Christmas messages is part of a broad international campaign to introduce into churches political warfare against. As seen in NGO Monitor’s “BDS in the Pews” project, Palestinian Christian NGOs, such as Sabeel and Kairos Palestine, provide the theological and ideological frameworks for these attacks.

    Kairos Palestine published its annual “Christmas Alert” booklet, with contributions from radical anti-Israel NGOs such as Badil, St. Yves, and Defence for Children International – Palestine Section (DCI-PS). Using “testimonies” and “prayers,” the Christmas Alert advocates for Palestinian refugees to “demand their right of return,” campaigns for “reunification” of

    Palestinian families, and lobbies on behalf of Palestinian prisoners.

    Palestinian prisoners are a common theme in the examples below. However NGO Christmas messages omit the context of deadly terrorism, which is why most prisoners were incarcerated. Likewise, Islamic extremist violence against Israelis and persecution of Palestinian Christians are erased.

    Many of these NGOs are funded by European and other governments. Pax Christi is funded by Belgium (via Broederlijk Delen), UK (via CAFOD), France (via CCFD), USA (via CRS), and Germany (via ZIVIK); Sabeel by Sweden (via Diakonia) and the Netherlands (via ICCO and Kerk in Actie); ICAHD lists European Union, Spain, Ireland (via Trocaire), NGO Development Center (joint funding of Switzerland, Sweden, Denmark, Netherlands), and UNDP as funders; Wi’am is funded by the USA (via the Middle East Partner Initiative), Sweden, and The OPEC Fund for International Development (OFID). As funders, these governments are enablers and share the moral responsibility for the actions of the NGOs….”

    The article goes on to detail the specific anti-Israelactivities by the ngos at Christmas.

    http://www.ngo-monitor.org/article/come_all_ye_haters_ngo_exploitation_of_religious_themes_to_demonize_israel0

  7. Walid
    December 27, 2014, 10:42 am

    Just, I think most of them understand it quite well but don’t believe it applies to Palestinians; they consider them as they do cockroaches.

  8. Thalwen
    December 27, 2014, 1:17 pm

    Unsurprising. Israel relies on the political and financial support of Western Christians, especially evangelicals who are obsessed with supporting Israel’s right to do whatever it wants, who tend to plan a lot of these trips.
    Can’t have those folks see Palestinians as human beings, or as fellow Christians.

  9. Walid
    December 29, 2014, 2:28 am

    Different points of view on Christmas between Israelis and Hizbullah, from the Daily Star:

    “BEIRUT: Hezbollah delegations toured several churches in southern Lebanon Thursday to wish Christians a merry Christmas.

    The first delegation, headed by Sheikh Ahmad Mrad, arrived at the Greek Orthodox Church in Tyre at the start of their tour, where they offered Christmas greetings to Archimandrite Jack Khalil.

    Next, the same delegation visited the Catholic Church. Bishop Michael Abrass thanked the delegation for the well-wishes offered by Hezbollah on Christmas.

    “We hope this country would be blessed with more love, harmony and convergence in order to build a nation that expects a lot from us,” Mrad said.

    The tour ended at the Maronite Cathedral of Our Lady of the Seas, where Bishop Shukrallah al-Haj thanked Hezbollah for its support “of this church and of this country where a display of Christian-Muslim unity is always seen during joint holidays.”

    A second Hezbollah delegation headed by Sheikh Zeid Daher made a similar tour of churches in the southern port city of Sidon.”

    http://www.dailystar.com.lb/News/Lebanon-News/2014/Dec-25/282228-hezbollah-sheikhs-in-christmas-tour-of-south-lebanon-churches.ashx

    Not mentioned in the article is that a third delegation visited the Maronite Catholic Cardinal to wish him a merry Christmas.

    • RoHa
      December 29, 2014, 3:15 am

      As far as I can tell, the majority of Muslims are quite happy for Christians to celebrate the birthday of the Prophet Jesus, even if the Christians do have some funny ideas about him.
      Buddhists, of course, have no objections, and most Sikhs and Hindus are similarly unconcerned. Atheists enjoy it as an occasion for a piss-up.

    • just
      December 29, 2014, 7:50 am

      Respect.

  10. bintbiba
    December 29, 2014, 9:55 am

    “Just ” Thank you so much for posting this . Just shows how Music and Art transcending religion(s) to bring people together to sing and love i n peace !

    All best good wishes to all on MW and elsewhere for 2015.

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