I am staying for three days as a guest of an Anglican priest called Nael and his family Mira and Clara (3 years) here in Nazareth. They live in a top floor apartment in a newly built outer part of Nazareth on a hill with beautiful views of the surrounding country.
Nazareth is a large Arab Israeli town in the north of Israel. It’s really beautiful. It was Palestinian until 1948 when it was taken over from British rule by Israel in the war then, and although the people here are Palestinian by descent they have Israeli nationality and are called Arab Israelis. They don’t have to do national service but also there are disadvantages to this identity – but within Jewish identity there are classes and advantages based on acceptance with certain groups, so it seems people accept their standing, and Christians, Muslims and Jews coexist peacefully. Nazareth is getting more visitors, and I was impressed by the growing number of restaurants in the town centre.
Today I visited an Anglican school here called Christchurch, meeting teachers and children, seeing classes during lessons and facilities, which are excellent. It’s a semi-private school, the government pays 60% of teachers’ salaries and student fees comprise the rest.
Many aspects struck me, particularly how quickly the students have to specialize – they take Bagroot exams aged 16 that are just less than our A level standard and in 5 subjects: maths, a science specialism or other choice like history or computing, English, Arabic and Hebrew. I was shocked to discover that arts are completely excluded because of the tough triple language requirements. If students want to get into university they have to take further exams in the year after school in special private tutorial groups, so going to university is tough. And the universities in Israel have a 10% quota for Arab Israeli students that once filled cannot go over, so for some subjects, like medicine, it is extremely hard to get a place. The head teacher’s son here is now studying medicine in Hungary because he didn’t get a place at an Israeli uni as an Arab.
All the classrooms have smart boards, and it is a large but close-knit community, many of the staff were students here, and the parents are very supportive. Outside space for sports is very different to the UK: just one astroturf basketball court for a school of 1400.
I was so warmly welcomed and there is great enthusiasm for partnership working with two schools in Mansfield, so we came up with ideas for how it could work and the next step. The head teachers at the elementary and secondary schools Manal and Eva kindly took me out to lunch at a great restaurant in the centre of Nazareth, and to a nearby orthodox church with an ancient spring. We got on really well. I then enjoyed visiting Manal’s family at her compound nearby, which has amazing rooftop views of Nazareth and a large upstairs Jacuzzi! Her daughter also sang and played her (new) guitar – she is really talented.
Nael then came to pick me up to bring all his family to visit another family from the church before the husband leaves for his building job in Burkina Faso for a 2-month stint. We ate tabouleh – chopped parsley with cracked wheat, onion and lemon juice – and baked savory pastries then cake, with whiskey. Whiskey is the traditional drink when you visit someone here in the evening. I think Keith would like this culture!
I chatted with a teenage lad at the house who saw me visit his classroom during a maths lesson. He said Nael recently organised a visit to an Anglican church in the West Bank and they were so pleased to meet this sister church, although there will be no return visit to Nazareth of course. He said the West Bank people viewed people from Nazareth as like angels, because of their peaceful coexistence. I haven’t seen many Jewish people around today, I think they live in largely separate villages and towns away from the Arab Christians and Muslims, but there is much to be thankful for here.