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  1999-0730 - Mayor Khalil Kasim of Tira


Israeli cities



Khalil Kasim sees hope 
for citizens of Arab city

San Diego Jewish Press-Heritage, July 30, 1999


By Donald H. Harrison 

San Diego, CA (special) -- In the city of Tira, where there are 20,000 residents, there are 30 extended families. The Kasims are among the better known families, with Khalil Kasim and his father before him both having served as mayor. 

Ibrahim Kasim was mayor for 18 years before he died in office. The city's high school is named after him. His son, Khalil, has been building upon that record. Recently, he was elected as vice chairman of Israel's Council of Local Authorities -- which interpreter Meir Turner noted was "the first time in the State of Israel's history that an Arab has served in this lofty position."
In an interview during a July 17-21 visit to San Diego, Kasim said he worries about 10 percent unemployment in his city, but believes prospects for more jobs are improving now that Ehud Barak has taken over as prime minister from Benjamin Netanyahu. Agriculture and furniture production are currently the principal sources of employment in Tira.

Noting that Barak has appointed former Prime Minister Shimon Peres as Minister for Regional Cooperation, Kasim said he hopes that Arabs who live inside Israel's borders will receive as much help in economic development as Peres plans for Arabs in the Palestinian Authority and neighboring countries.

He told a reception co-sponsored by the International Visitors Council and the American Jewish Committee that he considers 

   Mayor Khalil Kasim of  Tira
Israeli Arabs to be "a bridge between Israel and the Palestinians." 

"We all hope that Ehud Barak, the present prime minister, will follow the path that Itzhak Rabin, may he rest in peace, had started with the peace process," he added. "Just as we have visited and are able to go to Jordan and to Egypt, we hope next year that we will be able to do the same and visit Syria and Lebanon as well."

As for relations between his city and neighboring Jewish cities and towns, Kasim noted that Jewish school children visit Tira to learn about Muslim holidays and that Arab school children visit nearby Jewish schools to learn about Jewish holidays. 

He said besides the high school, there are four elementary schools and two middle schools in Tira, as well as a school for the deaf and another for the developmentally disabled. "These schools are considered quite good not only among Arab shools but can be compared to Jewish schools too," he said. 

He also noted that "there is an Arab market in Tira, and Jews from the village come to buy and use the market."

"In fact," he added, "we live in amity in Israel--Jews and Arabs, Jews and Muslims--just as here, from what I have heard, there are Muslims who live in this city in peace, who have their house of worship and live here in amity."