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Anger after Nazareth suburb bans Christmas tree
Published Thursday 23/12/2010 (updated) 17/02/2011 21:46
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Christmas preparations go on as planned in Bethlehem, as Palestinians attend
the traditional lighting ceremony of the main Christmas tree next to the Nativity
Church, Dec. 15, 2010, 10 days before Christmas. [MaanImages/Luay Sababa]

BETHLEHEM, West Bank (Ma'an) -- Christmas festivities in the Holy Land focus on the West Bank town of Bethlehem, where Christians believe Jesus was born and the Palestinian Authority hosts annual celebrations.

Israel's government highlights events in Nazareth, a predominantly Palestinian city in Israel where Jesus is believed to have spent much of his life growing up with his mother Mary and her husband Joseph.

But there will be no celebrations this year in a Jewish suburb of Nazareth, after its mayor sparked outrage by refusing to allow Christmas trees to be placed in town squares, calling them provocative.

Nazareth Illit, or Upper Nazareth, is adjacent to Nazareth. It has a sizable Palestinian 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 Agence France-Presse.

"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 Wednesday of the northern Israeli town.

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

Gabso's decree sparked accusations of racism from the mayor of Nazareth proper.

"This is a racist decision," said Ramiz Jaraisy, Nazareth's mayor. "But it comes as no surprise, unfortunately, because this person is already well known for his racist views."

Reached by phone, Jaraisy told Ma'an that his counterpart "should respect the religious feelings and beliefs of everyone in Nazareth Illit, not just his own religion's."

In any case, Christians as well as Muslims in the suburb will ignore Gapso's dictates, Jaraisy said.

The decision has also angered the town's Palestinian and Christian minority, who said it highlighted larger concerns about equality in Israel, whose population is 20 percent Palestinian.

"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 neighborhoods of Nazareth Illit he said this is a Jewish town, not a mixed town," said Shukri Awawdeh, a Muslim 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."

Tel Aviv-based blogger Yuval Ben-Ami slammed the move, saying Gabso "has absolutely no clue what non-Jews around the world would feel when hearing that the mayor of a Nazareth suburb bans Christmas trees.

"He is the mayor who stole Christmas, the mayor of an ethnocentric town with a name that hints at superiority, who rejects a symbol of universal tolerance," he wrote Wednesday.

Ben-Ami noted that Christmas plans were moving forward in other Israeli cities like Haifa, where Mayor Yona Yahav allowed a large tree to be placed between its Jewish and Palestinian neighborhoods.

He says the initiative proves "that sharing the festive season is possible even in this troubled land."

AFP contributed to this report.
1 ) Ann / USA
23/12/2010 18:45
Mayor Gapso should be ashamed of himself. Christians in the US are watching and learning fast. May God forgive this mayor.

2 ) Malach NaMavet / Gehenem
23/12/2010 19:14
Feel free to display your Christmas trees in front of your homes

I will allow you to display your symbol just as soon as I'm allowed to place a lighted Chanukiyah in front of yours

3 ) Maureen / Australia
23/12/2010 20:40
That poor American Christian evangelist, murdered recently, proselytized to Jews...

4 ) Colin Wright / USA
23/12/2010 23:17
To #2 Malach NaMavet Do you feel the same principle should be applied to public devotions at the Western Wall? ...or perhaps you feel Christianity has no legitimate claim on any site within Israel?

5 ) izzy / usa
23/12/2010 23:51
Show me a picture of a menorah in ANY arab country please....stop complaining about israel so much. If a jew cant do something in an arab country, why go crazy when an arab cant do thesame thing in a jewish country. Seems very unfair

6 ) John / NZ
23/12/2010 23:56
1) Yes he should, and I wish you were right about Christians in the US but suspect you are not. Hardly any will ever learn of this, and of the few that do, if they are evangelicals who are "Christian Zionists", they will easily find plenty of reasons to support this mayor, just as they do in support of Israel no matter what.

7 ) Furious / USA
24/12/2010 00:28
Keep it up. We are indeed watching. Jews have a lot to learn from Malaysia among others. http://www.google.com/images?hl=en&client=safari&rls=en&q=malaysia christmas&um=1&ie=UTF-8&source=univ&ei=h8wTTcGrCIOClAenguH2Cw&sa=X&oi=image_result_group&ct=title&resnum=2&ved=0CDAQsAQwAQ&biw=995&bih=715

8 ) Moll / SA
24/12/2010 02:04
Christmas trees originated amongst the european pagans who celebrated the winter solstice by decorating trees standing outside with food for the animals to eat. What the tree has to do with the birth of Yeshua ha Maschiach/Prince of Peace is beyond the imagination! Put up the Creche Manger Scene in a jewish neighborhood! Now that would be truly be controversial! But Christmas Trees? It's a silly "tempest in a teapot".

9 ) marie / usa/opt
24/12/2010 05:13
Hello Izzy. Please visit Sheikh Jarrah, East Jerusalem (Palestine!) and you can view the giant mennorah on the roof of a home stolen from Palestinians and being illegally occupied by Zionist #@)&$#)

10 ) Niva dos Santos / Brazil
24/12/2010 07:16
Point a war and no doubt some religious bullshit is part of it. How can some stupid forbid trees, candles, you named, in this XXI century? Come to my country, I don't care about religion, just like millions, but here you can follow wherever you want! Happy Xmas. By the way, listen to "Imagine", from the great John Lennon and learn a little...

11 ) Colin Wright / USA
24/12/2010 10:52
To izzy USA #5 'Show me a picture of a menorah in ANY arab country please...' Show me an Arab state that we both midwived and nuture and protect to this day to the tune of $500 per capita per year plus all the bombs they can drop.

12 ) MALACH HAMAVET / Gehenem
24/12/2010 18:10
One Arab state does come to mind, Saudi Arabia, which charges extortionate money for their oil and is supplied with weapons by the USA
Have you noticed the price of gas recently, it's now around $3.09 per U.S. gallon, which goes a long way to supply the Saudi's with funds for arms
Which by the way, have contracted to purchase $60 billion in arms, which is the largest arms sale in U.S. history

13 ) Jerzim / Palestine, Nablus
25/12/2010 02:17
They are banning Islamic and Christian symbols from a land that is Islamic-Christian. This country is not jewish, It belongs to the Palestinian people who are Muslim and Christian mostly. And yes Palestinian jews can have a menorah or whatever jewish symbol, we dont mind that however we do mind when foreign jews dictate us in our own country that they have stolen from us. I cant believe how rude izzy is, the zionists have stolen our entire country & he/she talks about menorah in the arab world!

14 ) ken / Ireland
25/12/2010 06:25
Sounds like Mayor Gestapo to me.

15 ) Hussam / Palestine
25/12/2010 11:10
Izzy, your comment is ignorant. Yes, the Menorah is visible in Morocco and Tunisia and Egypt where Jewish communities exist. They represent less than 1% of the populations there. In Israel, indigenous Palestinians constitute a growing portion of the population (20-25%). To deny them the right to erect a Christmas tree is a silly move which only serves to prove the direction in which Israel is heading. Izzy, just enjoy the sight of a Christmas tree, it's beautiful !

16 ) Malach HaMavet / Gehebem
25/12/2010 17:11
13 ) Jerzim / Palestine, Nablus
Israel allows religious symbols to be placed in their proper places
Can you inform us which Arab town displays the Star of David ?

For your information, Jews were here before the arrival of the Christian's or Muslim's, who came after both

There is no such thing as a "Palestinian Jew", he's an Israeli Jew

17 ) Malach HaMavet / Gehenem
25/12/2010 17:30
14 ) ken / Ireland

It's called separation of Church & State
In the USA local laws also forbid the display of religious ornaments, crosses & X-Mas Tree on Municipal property, you can display it on your own front lawn or property

I don't think you can name a single Arab town that displays a Star of David

Just to let you know, that a Christian in Saudi Arabia isn't allowed to put an
X-Mas tree in front of his home, or wear a cross around his neck if it's visible for anyone one to see

18 ) Outsider / EU
27/12/2010 15:57
5) Izzy: We're talking about a country which calls itself "the only democracy in the Middle East", and where unfortunately the local Israeli mayor finds Christian symbols in Nazareth "provocative". Nazareth, no less.

19 ) John / NZ
31/12/2010 22:09
17) Separation of church and state exists in many Western countries, but not in Israel. You surely know that to be recognized as a converted Jew a person has to have their conversion approved by a Judaism religious authority. You also must be well aware that marriages there are only those recognized by a religious authority. And that authority is exclusive to one form only; the state does not allow any other forms of Judaism to exercise it, or any non-religious authority.

20 ) Palestine is Coming / Autrailia
14/12/2011 03:09
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