Israeli city Nazareth Illit changes name to cut Jesus link, avoid confusion

JERUSALEM (AFP) - An Israeli city often confused with its famous neighbour Nazareth, where Christians believe Jesus was raised, has changed its name in the hope of consolidating its separate identity.

A poll of over ten thousand residents of Nazareth Illit (Upper Nazareth) overwhelmingly approved the proposal to rename the city Nof Hagalil (View of the Galilee), with Mayor Ronen Plot finalising the move in a festive Friday meeting (June 21).

The city had received governmental approval six months ago to go ahead with the change, with a committee selecting the name that won residents' approval, a municipal spokeswoman told AFP on Sunday.

Nazareth Illit was established in the late 1950s, just 3km and a 10-minute drive from Nazareth, with its name meant to be a temporary fix.

"The temporary name became permanent and caused total confusion," spokeswoman Orna Buhbut said, noting that every single mayor in the city's 62 years had attempted - and failed - to change it.

Nazareth is the largest Arab city in Israel, and its population of 75,000 is almost entirely Muslim or Christian.

It welcomes crowds of pilgrims each year to visit the site where Christians believe the Archangel Gabriel announced Jesus' birth to Mary, and where they believe his childhood home was located.

Nof Hagalil, with a population of approximately 50,000 - most of them Jewish, many of Russian origin - stands out mostly for its rapid development.

Ms Buhbut said that Nazareth and its Mayor Ali Salem supported the renaming.

"Nazareth is a global brand with a history of thousands of years," she said.

Renaming the lesser-known Nof Hagalil is aimed at "bringing an end to the confusion and fixing the historic mistake of giving a city a name that includes that of another city".