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Jaffa residents ired over lack of Arab street names

By Yuval Azoulay, Haaretz – 16 Nov 2009

The municipal committee in Tel Aviv that is responsible for naming streets was due to convene last week to discuss complaints of discrimination from residents of Jaffa, but the meeting was postponed due to illness. As the date for the discussion approached, the residents had expressed the hope that several decades of injustice would be redressed and that some of their streets would be renamed for Arab personalities. They claimed they could not understand how, in a part of the city where half of the population is Arab, and which has some 400 streets, only five are named after Arabs.

One is named for Abd al-Ghani Karim, an Arab resident of the city who was killed in a terrorist attack in March 1992 next to the garage he managed. He tried to defend Ilanit Ohana, a young woman who was stabbed when returning from a Purim party; she died on the spot and he later died of his wounds.

Another street is named after the mayor of Jaffa, before it became part of Tel Aviv: Abd al-Rauf al-Bitar. There are also streets named for historical figures such as renowned philosophers Ibn Rushd (12th century) and Ibn Sina (or Avicenna, 10th century).

Residents of Jaffa are convinced there are many Arab figures worthy of having streets named after them, and accuse the municipality of an undeclared intention to Judaize the entire mixed city. The straw that broke the camel’s back was the intention to name a new road in Jaffa’s Ajami quarter after Shmuel and Sultana Tagger, who helped found Tel Aviv.

Prior to that, Arab residents had requested that it be named for a venerated imam, Sheikh Bassem Abu Zied, who died last year.

Residents had also called for the square next to the clock tower at the entrance to Jaffa to be named after Menachem Begin and Anwar Sadat; instead, the municipality named it for a philanthropist, Yossi Carmel.

“I wanted this to be a square of peace named after two brave leaders who forged the first peace in the Middle East. I thought that perhaps it would be nice to set up electronic machines there, where you put in a coin and hear parts of their speeches. It would be possible for tourists to take pictures and be photographed, and to buy souvenirs. Do you know what that would do for business here in Jaffa, what it would do for the country?” says Ahmed Masharawi, a member of the city council from the Meretz party, who is spearheading the campaign to have streets named for Arabs.

Previous requests rejected

Previous requests for Arab names, submitted to the municipal committee, have all been rejected. In some instances, the panel did research the proposed personalities but found problematic details, such as involvement in the Arab rebellion in the 1930s.

More than two years ago, the committee decided to name streets after leading Arab figures including writer and former communist MK, Emil Habibi; Adil Azar, who lived in Jaffa a century ago and was known as “mother of the poor”; historian Ibn Khaldun; and poet Jubran Khalil Jubran. Menahem Rabin, a member of the committee, proposed naming streets for Haroun al-Rashid, from “A Thousand and One Nights,” and for the Nobel Prize-winning Egyptian writer Naguib Mahfouz.

Meanwhile, however, the municipality has not taken any action. Residents of Jaffa thought there would be progress in light of Tel Aviv’s 100th anniversary celebrations this year, but they have been bitterly disappointed.

“When Shlomo Lahat was mayor, he pushed the idea forward,” said Rabia al-Ghani, 31, who lives on the street named for his late father. He added that what really bothers him is not so much the lack of commemoration of Arab notables, but rather the quality of life in Jaffa.

“In the last month I have killed eight mice in our house. There are burrows where the rodents live under the sidewalks. There are no proper entrances to this road and no road humps to slow the traffic. Drivers enter at high speed, with their stereo sets blaring so loudly that the walls practically fall down. That’s what happens when no one invests in our roads,” he said.

A few weeks ago, a contractor arrived and put up a huge sign for new apartments on the street, with the emphasis on “luxury dwellings.” Al-Ghani knows that means his new neighbors will have to be wealthy, so perhaps, he said, the municipality will finally have to fix the road and get rid of the mice.


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