To vote or not to vote, that is the question

The voting booths of Nazareth Illit will be opened tomorrow, not for for the next round of local elections, or for the repeat Knesset elections which will take place in September. We’re being asked to choose a slip which will determine whether the city will change its name to Nof Hagalil (Galilee View) or keep it the same as it’s been since its establishment in 1956.

I harbour a sense of ambivalence, both for the act of heading back to the municipality building and actually voting, and for the name change itself. Here are some random thoughts, in no particular order:

1) I believe that it is critical for residents of any locality to be active in shaping the place in which they live – a civic responsibility if you will. We are, after all, being asked what we think (the municipality is under no legal obligation whatsoever to ask the residents what they think – they can just decide the name change and do it) and therefore it would be rueful to just remain silent.

2) I’m convinced that there is an element of racism in the desire to change the name. The mayor has talked about people getting confused between the cities of Nazareth and Nazareth Illit, and claims that letters get sent to the wrong town hall, and people are always having to correct those that mix the cities up. He says that Nazareth has it’s own character (read Arab?) and Nazareth Illit has it’s own character (read Jew?), and it’s time to proclaim that differentiation once and for all.
There is something uncomfortable in this desire to distance Nazareth Illit from the neighbouring Arab city which is much more well-known than it’s Jewish counterpart. Nazareth Illit wants to stand on its own seven hills rather than live in the shadow of its more famous namesake.

3) There is another misunderstanding with the current names that a change would undo. I was once invited to sit on a panel of Jews and Palestinian Arabs at a conference in Washington DC . In an attempt to describe the racism and prejudice that he faces as a Palestinian Arab living in Israel, my fellow panelist started explaining to the American audience that the Illit of Nazareth Illit actually means elite in English – that the Jews sitting on the hill overlooking the Palestinian Arab City see themselves as the elite, and named their city as such. Now, even though there are no shortage of real examples of the phenomena to which he was describing ie. institutional racism again the Palestinian Arab citizens of Israel, and that actually Nazareth Illit was established in order to look over and to keep a check on the Palestinian Arab population below, I did point out his pathetic intentional and manipulative attempt to invent something which he knew full well wasn’t true, and hence paint me with this brush too, without him actually know who I am, what I am doing in the city and what I stand for.

4) I also have a sense of ambivalence to the concept of Judaizing the Galilee. On the one hand, it is important for me to live in the Jewish State, and that means Jews need to live here – and everywhere in Israel proper. On the other hand, “Judaizing the Galilee” also has a more sinister meaning: it goes all the way back to 1949 when the government starting talking about neutralizing the ‘Arab threat’, expropriating Arab land for new Jewish communities. Nazareth Illit was one of these cities that was partially built on private Arab lands.

Ironically, If the name were to change, a small part of me would feel satisfaction that the Palestinian Arab City has won the battle, and has forced the Jewish city to back down – there’s only room for one city round here with Nazareth in the name, and it’s us!

5) On the other hand, I value the proximity of the two cities and the surrounding towns and villages as one greater metropolitan area. I think there is a place here for all the people, the place names, the religions, the ethnicities and I like the fact that we get mixed up, with the names, with who lives where. Nazareth Illit is a mixed city, surrounded by Palestinian Arab towns and cities, each with it’s own atmosphere and flavour. I like that fact that we take wrong turns, we travel through each others’ towns and cities, stop for shopping, for food, for culture or just to wander. We are neighbours, service providers, friends and partners.

So how should I vote, if at all?

About the Author
Anton Marks is a British-born Israeli and a founder member of the largest urban kibbutz in Israel. He has been an informal educator for the last 25 years, and has recently returned from Shlichut in Maryland for the youth movement Habonim Dror. His passion for Zionist education, Tikkun Olam, Jewish history, identity and culture are a recipe for engaging and challenging articles.
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