A Glimpse of Nazareth

December 2, 2009

Nazareth is primarily Arab and living among the Arabs for this short amount of time is so eye opening. Just when you think you know what’s going on, suddenly you realize how ignorant you are. These are some of my observations to give you an idea of the city.

1) There are 2 cities of Nazareth. 1) Nazareth Ilite (which means “elevated”, which is the Jewish section of town) and 2) Nazareth where the Arabs live. The 2 sections are separated by a road, so one side is Jewish, the other side Arab. Though separated by a road, they intermingle for business. Beginning around sunset Fridays until Saturday afternoons, you can only shop on the Arab side. On Sundays you can only shop on the Jewish side.

2) Within Nazareth (the Arab area), there are 2 sections also separated by a road. One side is Arab Muslim, the other side Arab Christian. Many on both sides are nominal believers, being Muslim or Christian by heritage only. They intermingle with one another, however, they are able to tell who is Muslim and who is Christian based solely on looks – not clothes.

3) The tension, however, is quite high. There has been a mass exodus of Arab Christians within the past few years due to the almost unlivable conditions they are placed under. For example, if it is known that a Christian owns a shop, a Muslim and their friends will enter, take whatever they want and leave without paying. The Christian can do nothing about it. If he tries to do something, the Muslims will retaliate by harming or killing the shop owner or their family. The shop owner could go to the authorities, but they would have to leave the city anyway because the Muslims would come after the family and the authorities are not strong enough or have enough manpower to keep them safe. Muslims have also been harassing the Christians, then offering them twice the value of their home to get them to sell and move away. Many are taking the offer.

4) The reason this city has so many churches is because it was the only way to preserve the place they believed to be the site of something significant. The Muslims have come in and a) built a mosque directly next to the church and made it taller or b) populated the area so much that no Christians are left and Muslims are literally the keepers of the church keys or c) bought all the land surrounding the church so no Christians can move in.

4b) There are calls to prayer from the mosques multiple times daily. On Fridays, a large number of Muslim men will gather on the plaza on the threshold of the church grounds and pray. They also have a banner that always hangs from the trees in the plaza that gives the prayer of Muslim salvation in both Arabic, Hebrew and English- directly in front of the church.

5) On the Jewish side of the town, you may not share the Christian faith with anyone. If found out, technically you can be put in jail, but most likely you will immediately be deported. I believe in order to open a shop in the Jewish part of town without being Jewish, you must have a Jewish business partner.

6) If you have an Israeli stamp in your passport, you can’t go to Jordan, Syria, Saudi Arabia and many other Arab countries.

7) Although technically the Israeli government has jurisdiction over all of Israel, they leave the Arab areas to themselves. For example, the Arab part of Nazareth is a communist city. I don’t fully understand how that works, but I don’t think anyone else does either. It is also extremely poor and unstable. It is 3rd world like in it’s disorganization and instability.

8 ) The culture is very old fashioned when it comes to men and women interaction. As a woman, while walking down the street I may not look at an Arab man in the eye. It is considered offensive. Women stay with women and men with men – even in the younger ages. You can sense the tension between them in the younger generation, but they don’t break the social norm. While talking to a 14 year old last night, she didn’t even question the fact that she would never date. She knows that someday some man will ask her father permission to marry, if granted they will “date” for a few months and then they will get married. If a young woman decides to date and it is found out, she will not be marriageable and her family will be shamed. Women are expected to clean, dust and cook every day. I may look at a woman and smile, however, the Muslim women here know that we are American, so when we smile, they don’t know what to do with it because they assume that we think them lower class citizens since they are Muslim. Pretty incredible.

9) You live at home until you are married. It is offensive for a child to move out and get an apartment. Once you are married you often live in the same home with your family on a different floor or you live very close by. It is uncommon for an Arab family here to separate.

10) The Arab culture is based on an honor/shame system. It is apparently OK to lie in order to save your honor of the honor of your family or someone you care about.

11) Arab hospitality is second to none. I have devoted an entire post to that.


2 Responses to “A Glimpse of Nazareth”

  1. Wow, so enlightening. You’re right – we’re all quite ignorant. I can’t wait to read more.

  2. so amazing. i can’t wait to travel the world & be more cultured 🙂

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