Upper Nazareth, a Jewish settlement in Galilee near the town of Nazareth, has rejected an appeal to set up an Arab school in the city, Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported Thursday.
"Upper Nazareth was founded to make the Galilee Jewish and must preserve this role," Mayor Shimon Gapso said in a response to the Association of Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI), which submitted the request for the school earlier this month.
Gapso said the building of an Arab school in the city would be akin to building a mosque or a Muslim cemetery. He claimed the request concealed "a provocative nationalist statement intended to disrupt the status quo," and vowed that it would never happen as long as he was mayor.
Although one-fifth of the 52,000 residents of Upper Nazareth are Arabs, there is no Arab school in the town, and the 1,900 Arab schoolchildren must travel to schools outside the city, most of them in neighboring Nazareth.
But the schools in Nazareth can only accept a small number of pupils from out of town, forcing many Arab children to attend much more expensive private schools.
Gapso defended his decision when questioned by Haaretz, calling the ACRI's and the Arab's claims unjustified. He argued that Upper Nazareth and Nazareth are in the same school registration area, and that the town provides transport to schools in Nazareth in accordance with the Education Ministry's criteria.
Arab parents have in recent years repeatedly appealed to the local council to open an Arab school in Upper Nazareth, but this is the first time they have received a concrete answer.
"The lack of adequate schools infringes on the Arab residents' right to accessible, available education and on the equality of allocating public and municipal resources," the parents said in their request, which was submitted by ACRI attorney Ashraf Elias.
Elias then wrote to Mayor Gapso, urging him to rectify the situation: "The Arab children in Upper Nazareth are deprived of free, available formal education in their own town and neighborhoods. This means the local authority and education ministry are hardly allocating any resources to the Arab children's education, compared to the Jewish children's education."
ACRI's request was submitted on January 7; Gapso responded the next day. When contacted by Haaretz, he said that Upper Nazareth must stick to its "mission" of making the Galilee Jewish, and that he stood by "every word" he said.
Auni Banna, another ACRI attorney, warned that Gapso's angry response was adopting a dangerous approach,"which not only objects to the existence of Arab schools in Upper Nazareth but also denies the legitimate existence of Arab's in the city. The parents demand to enable their children to go to school in the city they live in is a basic right, and no city or mayor may deny it."
Gapso is no stranger to conflict or furious outbursts. About six weeks ago, following a protest rally in Nazareth over the Israeli occupation of Gaza, Gapso accused the Nazareth municipality of being a"fifth column" that was a "hostile city to Israel," and accused the entire city of becoming"a nest of terrorism in the heart of Galilee... waiting for an opportunity to stab Israel in the back."
Israel's anti-racism coalition has demanded that Gaspo be investigated and tried for incitement.
Nazareth is known as the 'Arab capital of Israel' because its population is predominately Arab. It is also the historic birthplace of Jesus, making it a center for Christian pilgrimage.