Sunday, February 10, 2013

1956: How Do We Arrange Upper Nazareth?

Let's start with the "end" of the story. According to the Central Bureau of Statistics, in 2011 there were almost 74,000 people in Nazareth, almost 70% of them Muslims and the rest Christians. No Jews lived there. In Upper Nazareth - the topic of this post - there were 40,000 people, almost 20% of them Arabs (Muslim and Christian).

In 1956, at the time of today's document, Nazareth's population stood at 24,000, most of them Christian (Arabs). It was the largest Arab town in Israel. A few years earlier, Ben Gurion had ordered the creation of a Jewish presence in Nazareth. Using what the Americans call Eminent Domain, the government had earmarked an area to the north-east of town, and had begun the construction of hundreds of housing units. Now, in August 1956, the first families were soon to move in, and the Ministers' Committee for Foreign Affairs and Defense was convened to discuss a question which probably ought to have been decided earlier, but hadn't: what would the municipality be? There were two main alternatives:

1. The Jewish neighborhood would be part of the municipality of Nazareth, even though about half of its area lay outside the municipal line;

2. The part that lay inside the municipal lines of Nazareth would be detached from the municipal area (in return for other land to the south or west), and the entire Jewish neighborhood would incorporate a new municipality.

Israel Bar-Yehuda, the Minister of the Interior, needed a decision on this so as to launch the appropriate legal process.

Foreign Minister Golda Meir had a complication: the UN General Assembly would convene in November, and Israel's decision on the internal matter of municipal lines between its towns was expected to be an issue there - so she needed the "right" decision.
Golda Meir: The whole idea was to have Jews move in. If the new neighborhood is part of Nazareth, the progressive city council will do everything to ensure it doesn't grow. There will be taxation but no services. If we set out on the legal track to detach the neighborhood from Nazareth, it will take a number of months, and maybe we can keep the process under wraps until after the UNGA. I understand the first families will move in sooner, September or October, but we'll tell them what's going to happen.

Minister of Religious Affairs and Welfare Moshe Haim Shapira: I'm against. The whole idea was to have a Jewish presence in Nazareth; if we create a separate town it will be separate. Also, the UN will say that not only are Jews moving into a city which is holy to the Christians, they're also reducing its size. On the other hand, if the Jews live in Nazareth, perhaps better relations will arise between the groups. I'm not worried the municipality will prevent the neighborhood from growing: it will be part of their town, and anyway, the municipality needs all sorts of things from the Ministry of Interior. It's not like what we had in Tel Aviv and Jaffa [Jewish TA was set up outside of mostly-Arab Jaffa], because now we've got a state and a government.

Golda Meir: No way. The municipality has hundreds of ways to prevent the growth of a Jewish presence... Part of the plan is to locate government offices in the Jewish neighborhood. If it's part of Nazareth, the employees will all be hired through the Nazareth labor bureau, and they'll make sure they hire only Arabs.... If we don't make the right decision here, I'll take the subject back to the full cabinet for a second discussion.

Minister of Health Israel Barzilai: I agree with Shapira. If we want a mixed city it has to be one city, not two. And if we make two, the Christian world will be furious at us for reducing the size of their holy city, even if we're not reducing its size because we're adding on elsewhere. Perhaps had we expropriated the area and detached it all at once, we would have had two accomplishments for the price of one international outcry. But now that we've already built some of the units, and they're inside the municipality line, it's too late to extract them. This is hindsight, I know... Ah. I've just been handed a note that says it was the decision of the Planning Department in the Ministry of the Interior. OK, but the staff of the planning department are professionals, not politicians, and they didn't think about the political aspects.

Minister of Justice Pinchas Rosenne: First, I must say I never liked the slogan of Judaizing Nazareth. It's a Christian holy city, and if we want Jews to live there, fine, but why do we need that slogan?

Golda Meir: It's first and foremost a Communist city, run by MAKI (Israel's Communist party).

Rosenne: The reality on the ground will be the same, but I think it's better not to push Jews into Christian Nazareth. The psychological effect will be better if there are two separate municipalities.

Minister of Education Zalman Aran: Inserting Jews into Nazareth will only cause hatred; and the tense relations between the locals and the Jews will make life for the Jews unbearable. There should be two separate municipalities.

Minister of Transport Moshe Carmel: The Jews of Nazareth should live in Nazareth, not in a separate township. I'm not in favor of mixed cities in general; Jews shouldn't move into Taibe, and Arabs shouldn't move into Ein Harod. But Nazareth is different. It's a big Arab city, in the middle of the Galilee, and there have to be Jews there for security reasons. [Carmel had been a general in the War of Independence.] It may end up less pleasant, but the Jews need to be in Nazareth.

Minister of Labor Mordechai Namir: Nazareth isn't a Christian city. A third of its population are Muslims. I see nothing wrong with individual Jews moving into Nazareth. Arabs can and Jews can't? Yet there has already been tension, and there will be more, and putting the Jews in a separate section is less likely to cause tension.

Barzilai: What you're essentially saying is that we can't move Jews into the city because the Communist world will get angry, and the Christian world too. You're saying we should leave the city as a bastion of the Communists, and accept that nothing good can come out of Jews and Arabs sharing a city.

Golda Meir: The Prime Minister (Ben Gurion) wrote months ago that he's in favor of having two municipalities.
Since a majority was in favor of creating two municipalities, the committee decided not to decide until after the UNGA in November. The fear of international opinion was strong enough in 1956 to interfere with internal policies of unquestionable Israeli sovereignty.


  1. "The Prime Minister (Levi Eshkol)" - in 1956?

  2. Oops! You're right, thanks. Fixed it.

    1. Just so you know that we read these things.

  3. Would you be so kind as to state the file number? This is a very interesting document

    1. Bian -

      No file number neccessary, as it's part of a series. Simply refer to it as the meeting of the Minister's Committee for Foreign Affairs and Security, Aug. 13th 1956.