Arab Town in Israel Removes 'Arafat' Street Signs Under Government Order

Interior Minister Arye Dery demanded that Jatt rescind a 2008 decision to name a street for the late Palestinian leader. Netanyahu: 'we can't have streets named after Israel's enemies.'

Netanyahu meeting Yasser Arafat in the Gaza Strip, 1997.
Netanyahu meeting Yasser Arafat in the Gaza Strip, 1997. © Jim Hollander / Reuters

The Arab town of Jatt removed street signs bearing the moniker of Yasser Arafat on Sunday, after Interior Minister Arye Dery issued a 48-hour ultimatum in response to a Facebook post by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu protesting that "no street will be named" for the late Palestinian leader.

An Interior Ministry statement said Dery "was satisfied by the Jatt local council's decision to remove the signpost naming a street after Yasser Arafat." He said the council had also decided to remove other "controversial signs" but did not elaborate.

The decision by the council in the town near the northern Israeli city of Hadera followed a letter from Dery to Jatt's council head Mohammed Watad, earlier on Sunday saying that Dery had not been aware of a 2008 decision to name a street after the onetime chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization and former president of the Palestinian Authority. Arafat died in 2004.

The letter said further that local councils are required to inform the interior minister of any street name changes within 10 days, and that “based on the information in our possession, the request in this matter was not approved by the Interior Ministry and as a result, the [new] name has not been registered in population registry data.”

“I would ask that you act immediately,” Dery wrote, to remove the signs bearing Arafat’s name within 48 hours. The letter did not say what the consequences might be were the signs not taken down. Last week, the right-wing Im Tirtzu organization and a group of disabled Israeli soldiers protested to Dery against the street’s name, and demanded he take steps to change it.

“Naming a street in the State of Israel after an arch-murderer is mockery and is a slap in the face for thousands of Israelis murdered in terrorist attacks over the years,” Im Tirtzu CEO Matan Peleg wrote. 

Yasser Arafat street sign in the Israeli Arab town of Jatt.
Haaretz

In a Facebook post on Saturday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wrote that he had heard about the disabled veterans’ effort and had spoken about it with Dery. 

“In the State of Israel, no street will be named after Yasser Arafat and we will work to have the sign removed,” the prime minister wrote. Netanyahu said on Sunday that "we can't have streets named after Israel's enemies within the State of Israel."

Ahead of the council's meeting, Watad told Haaretz on Sunday that he would check to see if the street named for Arafat had acquired the necessary approvals but that as a matter of principle, he did not see a problem in naming a street after the Palestinian leader. 

“I have said and still say that both the Israeli government and that presidents and prime ministers of our country have recognized [Arafat] as a man of peace. They signed agreements with him, and he won the Nobel peace prize. There is nothing legally or morally preventing the naming of a street after him. We are acting in accordance with the law. I wasn’t [here] in 2008. Why after nine years was it mentioned? I don’t know.”