In the historically Christian town of Nazareth, a Muslim woman named Haneen Zoabi is giving her Christian mayoral incumbent a very serious run for his money. The 44 year old Palestinian Arab and Israeli citizen is the first woman to be elected as a member of the Israeli Parliament.
Elections are schedule due be held on Oct 22. Ramiz Jaraisy, the Christian incumbent mayor for the past 16 years, is set to fight for his seat. While Zoabi is leading in respect to other candidates, there are several others still in the race.
Zoabi is most well known for her active role against the Israeli occupation, when she participated in the Turkish flotilla that tried to push through the Israeli blockade on Gaza.
The history of Nazareth is important in that it is known to be the home of Jesus in his youth. It is also the place known to be the location where Mary was told that she would birth the son of God. It has steadily been a tourist attraction for Christians visiting the Holy Land for decades.
“I tease the mayor of Bethlehem," said Nazareth’s current mayor, Jaraisy. "I tell him Jesus was born in Bethlehem, but he is called ‘Jesus of Nazareth.’”
Nazareth is known in modern times as the “Arab capital of Israel” with a mix of 69 percent Muslims and 31 percent Christians, according to the Israel Central Bureau of Statistics in 2009.
"For me, Nazareth is my homeland – which I lost," Zoabi said. "I don’t believe we can get our rights without struggling. You must struggle and the current mayor doesn’t know how to do so.”
In addition she added, "Israel is interested in a weak Arab society and doesn't want to empower us. Some want to divide us by using the religious issue.”
Nazareth has a strong tourism industry however, the local infrastructure such as public space areas and entertainment venues are nearly non-existent. As a result of the lack of resources, over 1000 families leave Nazareth each year.
While there are no current accurate polls showing who is leading the mayoral race, the general consensus is that whoever wins provide stability between Christians and Muslims in the community.