The mayor of a Jewish suburb of Nazareth sparked outrage yesterday after he refused to allow Christmas trees to be placed in town squares, calling them "provocative".
Predominantly Jewish Nazareth Illit, or Upper Nazareth, is next to the old town of Nazareth, where Jesus is believed to have 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.
His decision has 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 neighborhoods 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."
A spokesman from the Mayor of Camden's office in North London said: "I've never thought Christmas trees were a religious symbol. I'm an atheist but we have one at home. They brighten up what is the darkest time of the year. In Camden we have many Musllms, Hindus and people of other faiths as well as Christians. Many of our streets and of course all our shops are decorated with lights and trees."