Alice Rothchild is a physician, activist and writer based in Boston. She is the author of Broken Promises, Broken Dreams (Pluto, 2007; 2010) and serves on the regional steering committee for American Jews for a Just Peace. The following blog post is the seventh of several documenting her current work in Palestine as part of the American Jews for a Just Peace – Health and Human Rights Project.
Dripping from the penetrating sun, we board our bus with Jonathan Cook and begin the winding uphill drive to Nazareth Illit. We are greeted by enormous Israeli flags flapping listlessly in the inadequate breeze and a brilliant view of the region. The Plaza Hotel (built to draw tourists and their shekels away from Nazareth) dominates part of the landscape. We stop at a lookout and can see Nazareth crowding up the opposite mountain slope and the valley below; Jonathan begins. Nazareth Illit was built as a development town, but the old housing is “grotty” and a bit dilapidated. We can clearly see the modern “ring road” that separates Nazareth Illit from the dangerous Arabs below. The Judaization of this area has been whitewashed and is now called the development of the Galilee, a program also occurring in the Negev. The Ministry of Development sends 99.8% of its shekels to the Jewish community. Why am I not surprised?
Per the usual patterns, the land was taken for “national purposes” and in 1956 the Supreme Court backed this plan and rows of chunky concrete houses were built. Military documents clearly show that the goal of building this city was to swallow up the graceful and historic city of Nazareth and make Nazareth Illit the center of activity, making Nazareth a future ghetto much like Lydd. But Nazareth had capacities that gave it unusual resilience. Currently Nazareth has a population of 80,000, remains a cultural center, and Nazareth Illit functions more like a settlement with a population of 50,000. On the other hand, the same old rules apply to break up, dominate, and fragment the Palestinian communities, so the presence of Nazareth Illit has made it impossible for the surrounding Palestinian villages to join together to form a more powerful political force. Nazareth Illit was actually built with octopus-like tentacles, with the physical intent to create separation between villages. The Israelis also moved the District Court and administrative services from Nazareth up the hill, thus redirecting funds to the Jewish side of town. A bypass road was built to separate the two communities and then a “ring road” around the governmental buildings and that land was then “annexed” to Nazareth Illit. The army maintains a large base in the Nazareth, (land then annexed to Nazareth Illit) which Jonathan states is illegal, and there are other surveillance towers and of course the police department.
In keeping with these obviously racist plans, Nazareth Illit was given resources to develop a major industrial center, including the well known Illit chocolate factory and other industries located near the Zipporia area, that land then annexed to…. Nazareth Illit.
The 1965 Building and planning law forbid new Palestinian construction despite a population that has now increased 5 to 6 times. In fact, a blue line was drawn around every city in Israel outlining the limits of future building growth and (I know you will be shocked) the lines around Palestinian villages/cities hugged their current boundaries and the Jewish communities were given generous space to grow. Palestinians in Nazareth are only allowed to build up to four stories, so they have nowhere to build and thus are forced to build beyond the “blue line” which is illegal. Due to the constant surveillance described above and Jewish “look out” communities built in the Galilee that monitor Palestinian construction, 40,000 homes in the Galilee (remember these are Israeli citizens) live under demolition orders. In order not to attract an international outcry, only about 500 demolitions (which is 500 traumatized dispossessed families with more PTSD than we can imagine) occur per year, but the threat is always there. The remaining homes pay an annual penalty that amounts to an extra tax that only postpones the demolition.
The problem, Jonathan admits, is that Nazareth Illit is not that nice a place to live. The mayor has called Nazareth, “a nest of terror,” so that might not be a selling point for the new neighbors. Thus new immigrants were sent to Nazareth Illit, arriving at the Morganthau Reabsorption Center, and then moving into permanent housing. But now there are no new immigrants and the old ones are more economically stable and ready to leave. But who will buy their houses in such an undesirable place? For the past ten years, middle class Palestinians in Nazareth who are desperate for housing, have been purchasing these houses, so now 1/4 to 1/5 of the population in Nazareth illit is Palestinian! This is possible because this city is not a cooperative town so there is no admissions committee to turn the new neighbors down as socially unacceptable. In the free market system, no one wanted to sell to Palestinians, but there was no competition from Jewish families, and money ultimately talks. Isn’t that how the market is supposed to work?
The mayor, now in a frustrated rage, hung ginormous Israeli flags along the road like giant keep out signs. Haaretz also reported that he sought the advice of a rabbi from Hebron (take another deep breath) to develop a strategy to stop these trends. First the rabbi set up a Yeshiva for the national religious (i.e. fanatical Jews with guns) so there are now 50 armed religiously fundamentalist Jewish men living in Nazareth Illit (our own little Taliban!). Then the mayor began building a new neighborhood (with schools and synagogues and call centers for the women to work) for the Haredim who typically have eight to ten children, so the population is expected to jump by 30,000. These folks tend to be very aggressive and there are now reports of vicious attacks, including beatings, destroying shops, and throwing acid on Palestinians. (All of course in the name of the Almighty). I might also add that these crazies are also endangering secular Jews who resent being stoned as well. Thus the mayor has effectively stopped Palestinian migration into his city. But now, who will buy a former Jewish now Palestinian home? What will happen to them? Secular Jews do not want to live here and the ultra-Orthodox will not live in integrated neighborhoods; so much for the dying myth of the liberal Israeli democracy. What can the mayor do now?
Stories of Jewish and Palestinian Trauma and Resilience Alice Rothchild New edition of this unique and honest account of the conflict seen through the eyes of a doctor, with personal accounts that bring the trauma to life.