What's in a Name?

A yellow blotch of paint on a large rock in one of Shfaram's squares constitutes the pinnacle of a heated dispute that has been going on in the town over the past month.

A yellow blotch of paint on a large rock in one of Shfaram's squares constitutes the pinnacle of a heated dispute that has been going on in the town over the past month.

The paint was smeared on the rock in the dead of night to cover up the name of Jewish banker Edmond Safra, in whose name the square was dedicated in keeping with a decision by Shfaram Mayor Orsan Yassin.

In a majority decision, the town council decided to annul Yassin's decision. However, vandals went to work before the rock was removed.

Names of streets and squares must be approved by a town council vote, following discussions in the municipal names committee. The Safra square affair can be chalked up as something of a victory for Yassin's opponents in Shfaram. But there are other reasons for stripping the square of its name, according to municipal opposition member Nizar Bushnak. "Names of places mean something - our children have to respect the leaders of all nations, but there have to be priorities. Not everything is determined by money."

For some years now, the Safra family has helped finance a computer project in Shfaram. In recognition of this, the town's mayor decided to dedicate a Safra square.

"Safra deserves to be honored, but why a square in his name?" Bushnak asks.

"The square is situated, for example, at the end of a road named after Druze leader Kamal Jumblatt; there's Shuhada square; there's a road named after former MK Salah Hanifes - everyone according to his value," Bushnak continues. "To donate money isn't enough. We don't even know any details about Safra; perhaps we should have been told a little more about him beforehand. You can't just wake up one morning and see `Safra square' without knowing who the man is.

"What has happened now is embarrassing. They've desecrated Safra's name and this will only arouse antagonism and hatred, and this wasn't our intention."

Shfaram isn't the only town facing this problem.

Work on the construction of a large square in the center of Baka al-Garbiyeh, adjacent to the town's main mosque, is almost complete. "Maybe they'll name the square after Arik Sharon," quipped a resident, noting that the town's main thoroughfare was called "President Weizmann Street," after the first president of the State of Israel, Dr. Chaim Weizmann.

The entire stretch of the street, some two kilometers long, doesn't bear a single sign noting its name, which appears only on official maps and postal items. In fact, few in the town know the street's official name, while those who do are not very happy about it.

A mailmen who works in the town of some 23,000 residents is one of the few who are pleased the street has a name. "It helps me," says Manaa Dik. "In the rest of the town, I have to rely on my knowledge and remember where everyone lives. I'd be happy if the street was named after someone from here, someone who contributed to the town."

Another Baka al-Garbiyeh resident, Mahmoud Biadsa, is a little bemused. "It seems strange to me," he says. "An Arab town doesn't need a street named after a Jewish leader. A former Arab leader should be honored. There are many names that should be honored here. A Jew would also be bothered if he lived, for example, on Mohammed Ali Basha Street. I would suggest naming the main street after someone who made history, a religious figure or head of state."

Disputes over street names have cropped up in the past, always in mixed cities such as Haifa and Jaffa. In Jaffa, for example, most of the original Arab street names have been changed, much to the chagrin of the city's Arab residents.

According to Tel Aviv-Jaffa city councilman Rifat Turk, who proposed altering Jaffa's street names some three years ago, "We don't need a Rabbi Nahman of Bratslav Street; people don't even know who he is."