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Devout Israeli Jews moving to Arab-Jewish cities

By Amy Teibel

Associated Press

Published: Thursday, Oct. 4 2012 1:01 a.m. MDT

The efforts to bring Jews to Acre have won praise from high levels of government. Deputy Prime Minister Silvan Shalom hailed the establishment of a Jewish seminary in Acre last year a measure as "helping to strengthen the trend of Judaizing the Galilee."

"There's nothing to be ashamed of in that statement," he said at the time.

Acre's Arab deputy mayor, Adham Jamal, warned that the activists threaten to disrupt a fragile status quo.

The newcomers "don't understand the mentality of Jews and Arabs living together," said Adham, who serves under a Jewish mayor. "Those coming now aren't coming to live in Acre. They've come to kick out Arabs."

Acre's mayor, Shimon Lankri, insisted there is no policy of "Judaization," although he said he was sympathetic to a still-unapproved request to build a 100-apartment development for religious Jews in his city.

Such projects, where residents might be required to dress modestly and respect the Jewish Sabbath by not driving or blasting loud music, exist in many other communities in Israel.

"Do I have a policy that discriminates, that favors Jews? There is no such policy," Lankri said. "I myself lived in a building with Arabs and Jews for five years." He maintained that Arab and Jewish residents receive equal services in his city.

Arab activists dispute that, saying they face discrimination in Acre and other mixed cities. Arab neighborhoods are often marred by dilapidated buildings and roads, plagued by a shortage of schools and social services.

Before the religious Jews started moving into Acre several years ago, Arabs were preoccupied with the lack of equality, said Adham. With the influx of the Jewish religious nationalists, "the main subject has become Arabs and Jews, and that's dangerous," he said. "The discourse is now about demographics."

Lankri estimated that 200 religious families have moved to Acre in recent years.

A similar process is under way in Lod, about halfway between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.

Religious Jewish activist Aharon Atias said that after he and his wife married, their "first thought" was to move to a West Bank settlement. Then they came to the conclusion that they could transplant the settlement ethos to Atias' hometown.

He undertook to reverse a Jewish flight from his blighted hometown, which is about 25 percent Arab and 75 percent Jewish, by bringing in religious Jews. His project began with two families in the late 1990s, he said.

"Now, we're an empire," Atias said. He said 400 new religious families have moved in, and six day care centers, three schools, a seminary and a pre-military academy have been built for them. Another three projects for religious Jews are under construction, with about 660 units expected to be populated within the next two years, he said.

One development is in an Arab neighborhood, and the other two are in poor, mixed neighborhoods.

"We want to prevent Arabs from becoming the majority," Atias said. "The city of Lod, since 1948, and with God's help, has been a Jewish city where non-Jews live, and it has to remain that way."

Arab activists bridle at the notion that Jews must dominate.

"They're like a cancer that enters the body and doesn't leave," said activist Horia ElSadi, a Lod native, reflecting lingering bitterness over the establishment of a Jewish state. "They want to live alone. They want Lod to be a Jewish city."

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