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Bed and breakfast in the sacred city

26 May 2007

By Clive Baldwin

Nazareth – I am sitting in a cinema, with the star of the film directly in front of me watching himself on the screen. Around me people are glancing from the screen towards him, watching his reaction. Eventually he gets bored, jumps off his mother’s knee and runs away to play with his friends. This star is about five years old, and the film, “Bed and Breakfast” was made by two young women from my host organisation, I’lam, about the children of Nazareth. It shows the reality of life in the souq, but also the wish of even the youngest children to have a different life. We’ll see if there is hope for this in the rest of Israel.

Nazareth, in the north of Israel, is the largest city with a Palestinian Arab majority within Israel’s 1948 boundaries. The Palestinians survived here, it appears, due to the actions of one Israeli commander in 1948 who refused orders to expel the Palestinian civilians. Walking through the souq you are transported a long way from the beach resorts just a few kilometres away. The atmosphere of crowded old streets, of children running around and greeting you may be charming for foreigners, but also the poverty is marked. The distinction is stark with other parts of Israel, but particularly with the Jewish city of Nazareth Illit, a settlement built in the 1950s on the hill above the Arab city, designed clearly to overpower the latter both physically and demographically. It has not done so yet, but remains an intimidating presence from down in the valley.

Other, even more ancient quarrels can be perceived in the city. The city so sacred to Christians today has a Muslim majority – and whilst the differences between the religions can be overemphasised, they are nevertheless still real. A conference I attend on press ethics erupts at one point into accusations between religions, but then calms down again. The most notable sights in Nazareth are religious – especially the very large and new Catholic Church on the site where Mary received the Annunciation. Very impressive to know the exact location after 2000 years – but then, in a different part of the city, is an Orthodox Church, on what it says is the real location for the Annunciation. Arguments over churches in this part of the world have led to wars in the past, even in the Crimea.

But I spend the weekend talking about modern communication. I’lam, the Media Center for Arab Palestinians in Israel, is a young organisation, hosting a festival aimed at helping Palestinians develop their media skills. In various old buildings in the city I came across groups, predominately female, discussing blogging for human rights, filmmaking and monitoring the local media (which too often automatically portrays minorities as a threat). The film “Bed and Breakfast” is a strong example of what can be achieved by an active and hopeful organisation.

This article reflects the sole opinion of its author and does not engage MRG’s responsibility.