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I moved from dank, dark North Manchester, U.K. to Karmiel, Western Galilee, Israel in March 2010. It is, believe me, one of the sunniest, loveliest towns on earth. With a background in local Jewish journalism I continue to write freelance. I manage several blogs, have  appeared on Technorati and Blogcritics and now contribute to the online magazine, 'Live Encounters'. My main blog is Alwayswriteagain (http://wwwalwayswriteagain.blogspot.com

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

"I'm No Racist" Claims Karmiel's Vice Mayor

Perhaps we'll never bottle the magic of our new home, but we can always persuade an enthusiastic cameraman to capture it on film.

View - and enjoy!






But the gorgeous pictures may be  throwing an embarrassed veil over trouble in paradise: Oren Milstein,  Karmiel's young and feisty Vice Mayor  fears for the city's  Jewish character, is fighting a lusty rearguard action against a perceived "Arab takeover" and claims thousands of people support him.

Below is my own sterling effort to make sense of a poor Hebrew-English translation of his remarks during a Press interview subsequently posted on the Ramat Rabin Neighbourhood website.

My own views will appear only at the end of this piece so I cannot be accused of mixing fact and comment:

Milstein,39, a  retired army major and graduate in business administration, declares that Karmiel was founded "for 'Judaizing' the Galilee". He is adamant that it is wrong for Arab families to live here.

"In recent years, there has been a constant flow of our neighbours in the Western Galilee villages into Karmiel, and we must not ignore this phenomenon", he says.

"This is unequivocally non-racist. I'm just expressing aloud what ninety percent of residents think in their hearts. I see no element of racism in my words. I believe in co-existing side by side, with one other. But I must be honest and tell the truth - No one here wants a mosque in his house.

"At five o'clock every morning we hear the muezzin from the nearby village and I have no problem with that because it is their right to have full religious freedom. But in my house I want a synagogue, not a mosque. It is time they understand that this is a legitimate demand.

"Would anyone, ever, allow me to live with my family in an Arab village? Both parties wish to preserve their unique identity. It is important that each side preserves its heritage and  culture for future generations. We should live as near neighbours and save ourselves unnecessary friction " says Milstein.

Milstein, an observant Jew, claims that the catalyst for his activities came three years ago as he walked home from synagogue one Friday night.

"It was probably the straw that broke the camel's back. As I walked slowly from the synagogue to my home I witnessed a violent riot with  shooting and shouting and several policemen in cars trying to control the rioters ... the mess was a violent conflict between two clans from an Arab village in the region. That evening sharpened my insight into the reality of the situation. Why should there be an internal Arab conflict in the heart of my neighbourhood, next to my house? Why should my young children be exposed to such danger? What about our personal security?"

Milstein claims further that a letter from a 'concerned citizen' to Mayor Adi Eldar demanding more security measures was ignored. So, he drafted a petition entitled "Save the Jewish character of Karmiel" and in less than a week he received thousands of signatures.

"From the beginning, I just wanted to raise awareness of the problem. I did not expect such a massive response from thousands of residents and I realised I had touched a raw nerve ... so I went public in the belief that there must be another way.

"Within a few days of the new movement hundreds were added to Milstein's ranks. He realised he had broad support and stood as a candidate in the municipal elections.

As expected, a group of  Arab residents  protested  that his activities were "illegitimate" and he received many threats. But Milstein won four seats and his friends believe he has caused a revolution.

During his past two years as deputy mayor, Milstein has worked to change the situation, stressing residents' personal safety by working with the local police and an urban patrol volunteer unit  established for this purpose.

Milstein says: "We established the only city volunteer team known as the 'City Watch'."  "They man the entrances to the city every night and ask for identification from anyone seeking to enter the city. Thus, they reduce the number of neighbours who want to enter the city without reason.

The interview  continues in much the same vein. My few personal experiences with local Arabs have been very pleasant. Some of my near neighbours in Rabin are Arab. Smart Arab families patronise the same restaurants and bars in Karmiel town centre as their Jewish counterparts. I saw Arabs enjoying picnics in the local parks on Yom Ha'atzmaut near to Jewish families. They use the same public transport, shop at the same supermarkets and bank with the same companies as their Jewish neighbours. In six months here, I have heard many explosions locally and as readers are aware, the police fired shots at a suspicious object in our street some weeks ago.

However, as so many people in Israel carry firearms it is difficult to assess who does what, when. I've gawped at soldiers weighed down by wearing two machine guns at once. I have gasped at seeing a young neighbour sling his Uzi onto the back seat of his car as though it were his weekly shopping. I've sat close enough to a soldier on the local bus to examine the pattern on the butt of his gun. On my recent trip to Jerusalem, I was sardine-packed on the coach so close to a security man that the gun on his hip almost made an indentation on mine! He smiled; commented on the heat - and I almost died of fright!

None of this is life as I knew it in cool, damp Britain. Hot climates make fiery temperaments.  I can say in truth that "it goes with the territory". I'm a pluralist. I'll never be a Milstein fan. So I'll sign off here by advising him that if he wants to retain Karmiel's 'Jewish' identity, he should look very closely at the behaviour of some of the olim the city welcomes with such enthusiasm.

Have a care, Mr Milstein. Our energy should not be sapped in fights with our first cousins about real estate. The land belongs to no-one and to us all. So we  should reserve our strength for universal issues which trouble us all - Jew and Arab alike. How about the execrable standard of motoring on Israeli roads? Now, there's a thing ...


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