A Desire for a Street Name

There are actually very few streets in Jaffa that have Arab names - reflecting the tendency to prevent the entry of Arab cultural heroes into the Israeli pantheon.

This week, a member of the Tel Aviv-Jaffa municipal council, Rifat Turk, suggested naming a street in the city after Anwar Sadat, the late Egyptian president. Turk proposed changing the name of Hamasger Street, which runs close to Derech Petah Tikva, part of which was recently named after Menachem Begin, the late Israeli prime minister who signed a peace treaty with Sadat.

"The symbolism lies in the fact that the streets are almost parallel, but like the leaders - they converge, in the end," Turk explained.

Former Jerusalem mayor Teddy Kollek once suggested naming a square in his city after Sadat. But no sooner had he made the proposal when a counter-proposal was put forward: a square named for the "fighters of Dir Yassin" - meaning for those who perpetrated the massacre in the Arab village on the western edge of Jerusalem in 1948. Both proposals were rejected.

Turk said this week that he hoped times had changed: "Only a mule doesn't change," he said, "and besides, Tel Aviv is not Jerusalem."

We can take it for granted that the debate over Turk's idea will be conducted as part of the great Israeli debate - and, in fact, Turk's intention is clearly cultural and political: He is also waging a battle over the names of some of the streets in Jaffa. He wants one street there to be named for Umm Kulthum and another for Abdel Wahab, the Egyptian singers, and he wants a street named for the writer Taha Hussein and for the Palestinian scholar Ibrahim Abu-Lughod. He has also suggested naming streets for Tawfik Zayad and for Emil Habibi, Israeli writers and political figures. He wants streets to be named for Naguib Mahfouz, the Egyptian writer who was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature, and for the poet Fadua Tukan, even though both are still alive.

"You don't have to kill an Arab in order to name a street after him," Turk said. Indeed, there is a street in the Jaffa area that bears the name of a famous Jew who is still alive - Ed Koch, the former mayor of New York.

There are actually very few streets in Jaffa that have Arab names - reflecting the tendency to prevent the entry of Arab cultural heroes into the Israeli pantheon. From this point of view, Turk is right. He says he wants to introduce Arab names, instead of some of the Jewish names, on streets on which Arabs live: "We don't need Nachman of Bratslav Street in our neighborhood," he said. "People don't know who he is."

On this point, he is mistaken: There is room for everyone.

There are streets named after people who won the honor because their relatives are well connected in city hall. Many street names express the wealth of values, symbols and myths of the Israeli society. Accordingly, many disputes spring up over names. This is a saliently political issue. It will be a long time before Prof. Yeshayahu Leibowitz has a street named after him in Jerusalem because of his controversial views; Yisrael Kasztner, who was accused by a judge of "selling his soul to the devil" during the Nazi era in Hungary, was not commemorated with a street in Haifa; and it took a very long time before Tel Aviv honored Heinrich Heine, even though he converted to Christianity.

Many Arabic and English street names were changed into patriotic Hebrew ones after the establishment of the state - Independence, State, Victory, and so forth. In Jaffa, there is also a street called Conquerors. However, many Arab names have turned out to be stronger than the Israeli presence: There are vandals in Jerusalem who black out the Arab letters above the street signs, although even official signs put up by the city say Talbiyeh, for example, and not the Hebrew name, Komemiyut, which never caught on.

When Turk says that the Arabs who live on Nachman of Bratslav Street don't know who he is, he is right, of course. But there are also Jews who don't know the origins of the names of the streets on which they live. It doesn't have to be Lev Ha'ivri (in Talbiyeh, Jerusalem) or Buki Ben Yogli (central Tel Aviv); it can also be Bialik or Tchernikhovsky.

Instead of changing the name of their street, it might be better to propose to the residents that they learn something. The same holds for the Arab residents on Nachman of Bratslav Street. Parallel to that Jaffa street are lanes named after the rebbes of Vitbesk, Kotuv, Karlin, Kucik, Lilov and others, as well as BST Boulevard, for the Ba'al Shem Tov, the 18th-century founder of the Hassidic movement. That's a good many rabbis for an area in which a good many of the residents are Arabs.

But there's no need to transfer them in order to facilitate the right of return of the heroes of Arab history. There are all kinds of streets in Jaffa with superfluous names, such as [in English translation] The Anchor, The Sail, The Captain, Apple, Wheat, Sheaf and others. Enough names to make a change possible in order to respect the Arab heritage as it deserves.