Jewish and Arab residents of Upper Nazareth (“Nazareth Illit,” in Hebrew) last week voted to change the name of the northern city, in a move the mayor said was designed to put an end to widespread confusion with the neighboring Arab city of Nazareth. The deputy mayor of Upper Nazareth, Dr. Shawki Awauda (Hadash), said it was “time to give the city an independent identity, and put an end to the chronic confusion” between the city and its neighbor, historic Nazareth.
In a municipal referendum held Tuesday, June 18, nearly 80 percent of residents voted in favor of changing the city’s name to Nof Hagalil, meaning “View of the Galilee” or “Galilean View,” in Hebrew. The results of the vote were announced Friday, June 21.
Hadash lawmaker Yousef Jabareen hailed the name change, so long as it does not contribute to further separation between the two cities and merely perpetuate the economic discrimination against the historic, Arab city. “There is only one Nazareth, and that is the Arab Nazareth, one of the most important cities in the world,” he said, adding that Upper Nazareth was established on land expropriated from local Arabs and purposely built on land that overlooks and strategically controls the historic city.
When it was founded in 1957 by then-prime minister David Ben-Gurion as part of government plans to “Judaize” the Galilee, Upper Nazareth was allocated some 32,500 dunams (32.5 sq. km.) for a population that today numbers about 40,000 (3/4 of whom are Jews or other Zionist immigrants and the remainder Arabs). By contrast, historical Nazareth, the largest Arab-Palestinian city in Israel, has municipal jurisdiction over only 14,000 dunams (14 sq. km.), but with a current population of 76,000, 69% Muslims and 31% Christians. Or in other words, the area of Upper Nazareth’s municipal jurisdiction if an average of over 800 sq.m. per resident, while historic Nazareth controls only about 180 sq.m. per resident, making urban congestion in the lower city more than 4 times that of the upper.
“Nazareth was left behind in the socioeconomic index…,” said Jabareen, “so we must ensure that this name change does not deepen discrimination or the economic gap between the two cities.”