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East Jerusalem Streets Get Innocuous Names

Don't expect to find anything remotely political among the newly approved street names for the Arab part of the city.

Nir Hasson
Nir Hasson
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Palestinian youths throwing stones at Israeli border police vehicles during clashes in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan in 2010
Palestinian youths throwing stones at Israeli border police vehicles during clashes in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan in 2010Credit: Reuters
Nir Hasson
Nir Hasson

“Safety, prosperity and justice” may sound like a holiday greeting, but actually refers to three newly named streets in the predominantly Arab section of East Jerusalem.

In the last two years, the municipality has approved 40 new Arabic names for streets that had until then been nameless.

Most of the new names refer to inanimate objects. There is Quiet of the Night Street, after an Egyptian film, The Stars Street, and Al Navars Street (named, “after a sea bird,” according to the official explanation). Other approved names are Safety Street, Mountain Street, Journey Street, Prosperity Street, Justice Street, Lampshade Street and Horsemen Street.

Names with religious connotations have also been approved, among them al-Ulma (religious sages) and al-Qa’aqaa (the prophet Mohammed’s companions). Only one other of the 40 streets is named after an individual – Abu Zaid el-Hilali, described as “the leader of an ancient tribe.”

None of the names have any hint of political or nationalistic connotations and all have to be approved by Middle East studies and Islam expert Prof. Yitzhak Reiter.

Although the municipality says that East Jerusalem residents themselves proposed the names, the residents say that they do not submit names that could be disqualified so as not to drag out the street-naming process needlessly. “They disqualified Tawfik Ziad and Naji al-Ali,” noted the head of one of the neighborhood administrations, referring to a communist MK and a Palestinian caricaturist. “So we can submit a list that they will disqualify. But better not to knock your head against the wall and just get the names approved, for the good of the residents” he added.

Jerusalem city councilman Pepe Alalu (Meretz) accused the municipality of “trying to wipe out the Palestinian identity with names that don’t say anything, as if there is no leadership, no intellectuals and no cultural icons.”

The municipality countered: “The claims are incorrect and the facts show a different picture. The municipality has led an unprecedented project in recent years and given new names to more than 500 streets without names in the city. The process of selecting the names was done by the residents themselves, led by the neighborhood administration and not by the municipality. Therefore the names selected express the independent will of the residents, without direction from the municipality.”

The municipality statement went on to note that “dozens of streets in the eastern part of the city are named after figures from Palestinian and Islamic history, sites, singers, etc., such as the singer Umm Kulthum, Fatma al-Zahraa, the daughter of the prophet Mohammed and Halima al-Saudiyye, the prophet Mohammed’s wet nurse, among many other names.

There were also streets suggested by Reiter that expressed Muslim and Palestinian history, the municipality said, adding that some of the 40 names were being held in reserve for the future and that “the city would continue working with residents to improve the quality of life in the neighborhoods in the eastern part of the city.”

Two years ago the municipality held a festive ceremony to mark the naming of Umm Kulthum Street in Beit Hanina.

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