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Nazareth suburb's mayor: Christmas trees 'provocative'

Dec. 23, 2010 9:41 A.M. (Updated: Dec. 23, 2010 9:25 P.M.)
NAZARETH ILLIT, Israel (AFP) -- The mayor of a Jewish suburb of Nazareth sparked outrage on Wednesday after refusing to allow Christmas trees to be placed in town squares, calling them provocative.

Predominantly Jewish Nazareth Illit, or Upper Nazareth, is adjacent to Nazareth, where Christians believe Jesus spent much of his life. It has a sizable Arab Christian minority, as does mostly Muslim Nazareth itself.

"The request of the Arabs to put Christmas trees in the squares in the Arab quarter of Nazareth Illit is provocative," Mayor Shimon Gapso told AFP.

"Nazareth Illit is a Jewish city and it will not happen -- not this year and not next year, so long as I am a mayor," he said of the northern Israeli town.

"Nazareth is right next door and they can do what they want there," he said.

His decision angered the town's Arab and Christian minority, who accused him of racism.

"The racism of not putting a tree up is nothing compared to the real racism that we experience here," said Aziz Dahdal, a 35-year-old Christian resident of Nazareth Illit.

"When we asked the mayor to put up a Christmas tree in the Arab neighbourhoods of Nazareth Illit he said this is a Jewish town, not a mixed town," said Shukri Awawdeh, a Muslim Arab member of the town council.

Awawdeh said there were 10,000 Arabs, most of them Christian in the town and there was also a large community of Christian Russian immigrants.

"We told him that decorating a tree is just to share the happiness and cheer with other people in the town," said Awawdeh.

"People here, Jews, Christians and Muslims live in harmony, but when the mayor does something like that, it does not make things better."

Christmas festivities in the Holy Land focus on the West Bank town of Bethlehem, where Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus in a manger. But there are also events in Nazareth, where Jesus is believed to have grown up with his mother Mary and her husband Joseph.
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