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Page last updated at 16:56 GMT, Thursday, 14 May 2009 17:56 UK

Pope brings Nazareth to a standstill

By Tim Franks
BBC News, Nazareth

The lemonade which Daher Zidane serves is surprisingly good. "That's because it's made with lemons," Daher explains, drily.

Daher Zidane, owner of  Alreda restaurant
Daher Zidane's restaurant is open, but you need security clearance to get near

Daher is happy to talk at length in his restaurant, Alreda, close to the Church of the Annunciation.

The Israeli police had said that he could keep the restaurant open today, despite the fact that Pope Benedict was spending much of the day less than 100 metres away.

So the chef, a waitress, and a cleaner are here. But there are no customers, because no-one without security clearance can get anywhere near.

There may be an upside. "Maybe (the Pope's visit) will bring Nazareth back to people's consciousness," says Daher, as he leans back beneath the vaulted ceiling of this old Arab building, which has been in the family for 200 years.

"It's not that Israelis are ignorant. It's that they ignore us."

That, at least, is his view of the Jewish Israeli public. The government's influence he sees as more baleful.

POPE IN THE MIDDLE EAST
Monday Arrives in Israel, meets President Shimon Peres
Tuesday Visits the Dome of the Rock and the Western Wall. Celebrates Holy Mass in Josaphat Valley
Wednesday Visits Bethlehem, visits refugees, meets Mahmoud Abbas
Thursday Mass in Nazareth, talks with Benjamin Netanyahu, meets Franciscans
Friday Meets Orthodox Christian leaders, departs

"They want to kill Nazareth, economically. Because it's the biggest city of Arabs. It's as if we don't exist.

"If you take the road from Tel Aviv, you only see a sign to Nazareth (a town of 80,000) when the road will take you nowhere else."

Daher says his hometown is also suffering from what he describes as a continuing land grab by the predominantly Jewish new town of Nazareth Illit, further up the hillside.

He does not see the Pope's visit changing that. But maybe the new roads will encourage further tourists.

He could also point to the remarkable cooking in his own kitchen: among other inducements, a "secret" pudding that is part crème brulee, part sahlab, garnished with pistachios and infused with fruit.

"Eat it slowly," our waitress warned us sternly. "Because when you leave here, you won't eat it anywhere else."

Food appeared to be on the minds of a number of the thousands of police on duty in Nazareth for the Pope's visit.

Security 'overdone'

Some had their hands full with their riot shields. But others were walking down the street spooning into their mouths gloopy kunafe sweetmeat from flimsy plastic plates.

The impression was of a police force not overstretched. "It is overdone," said Abu Mohammed, outside his grocery store, near the town centre. The police numbers were, he said, utterly excessive.

George Abu Nasar in his sandwich shop
The Pope's visit brought good business for George Abu Nasar

"It suggests that we're very dangerous people." Abu Mohammed is an observant Muslim: he has a heavy beard, a white pilgrim's hat from his Hajj to Mecca and a khaki dishdash.

He has not quite forgiven the Pope for the remarks he made about Islam three years ago (when Pope Benedict quoted a Byzantine emperor's disparaging comments).

He says that the pontiff should have been more careful not to stir up "hatreds".

But relations between Muslims and Christians in Nazareth are, he says, good. "We won't forget that the Angel Gabriel told us we must look after our neighbour."

Luay Azzam
Luay Azzam was detained because of a sign saying "Mohamed is the Prophet"

Outside the Shihab al-Din mosque, there is less neighbourliness. Luay Azzam is furious. He has only just turned up, and he has missed midday prayers.

He spent the last four hours detained by the police because, he says, he and a friend had a sign saying "Mohammed is the Prophet" inside their car. He says the Pope is not welcome.

"Even if he said sorry (for the remarks three years ago), it is too late. The end."

Luay's voice appears to be vastly in the minority - although there was considerable disgruntlement among the crowd waiting for more than an hour in the midday sun that the Pope had sped past them behind the tinted glass of a limousine, rather than in the Popemobile.

George Abu Nasar was more enthusiastic. His wife, daughter and son-in-law had got up at 0400 local time to go Mass with the Pope at the Mount of the Precipice.

George had stayed to tend his sandwich shop. The previous day had been "very good", he said, with all the pilgrims and tourists who had come ahead of the Pope's visit.

"From Argentina, Italy, Russia," he listed. "Too much, too much." The way George said it, "too much" sounded as if it were just the right amount.



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