Most of the original inhabitants of Jaffa, once one of the most important Arab cities, abandoned it in 1948. It became a mixed Jewish-Arab city with a considerable Jewish majority. Nevertheless, it is the right of the approximately 16,000 remaining Arab residents of Jaffa to commemorate their own public figures in their city.
From the time of the establishment of the state and until the 1990s, only four new streets were named after Arab notables. In recent years, since Ron Huldai was elected mayor of Tel Aviv-Jaffa, a certain improvement can be seen in this area, with 11 more streets named after Arab public figures. In a mixed city, most of whose streets are named after famous Jewish figures, including many rabbis, more streets could be named after Arabs.
Every man has a name, given by his father and his mother, as the poem by Zelda goes; to every street a name is given by the the municipal committee on street names. After a long fight, the municipality of Tel Aviv-Jaffa held a ceremony last week naming a city square after Sheikh Bassam Abu Zeid, who was a leader of the city's Islamic Movement and its senior cleric. The struggle to commemorate Abu Zeid, who died three years ago, went on for about two years. Arab residents of Jaffa wanted to name a street near where Abu Zeid lived after him, but the city prefered to name that street after two of Tel Aviv's founders, Shmuel and Sultana Tagger. In the end, Abu Zeid won proper recognition in a different place.
Jaffa belongs to all its residents, Jews and Arabs. The Tel Aviv-Jaffa municipality must move ahead on the task of naming streets after Arab public figures, especially streets where most of the residents are Arab. It is the right of Jaffa's Arab residents, many of whom suffer from shameful social and economic neglect, to live on streets named after Arabs. The character of a mixed city should also express itself in the names of its streets.
Commemorating Arab public figures will only increase the identification of Arab residents with their city, and perhaps with their country as well. Naming a square after Sheikh Abu Zeid is a step in the right direction, in Jaffa and in other mixed cities.
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