The electronic signs at Haifa’s bus stops have still not been translated into Arabic, even though the Transportation Ministry has reached the deadline it had declared for this to occur.
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In February, after Haaretz contacted the ministry about the new electronic signs that are in Hebrew only, the ministry replied, “The Transportation Ministry is in the midst of translating the information at bus stops throughout the country into Arabic and English, and as part of that the information appearing in the electronic signs at Haifa bus stops will be translated to Arabic and English. The translations are expected to be completed in August of this year.”
Since then, according to local residents, additional electronic signs have been installed, maps have been hung at bus stops and some stops have even been made accessible to the deaf, but everything is solely in Hebrew. Arabs constitute around 10 percent of Haifa’s population.
There is no Arabic signage in Jaffa, either, even though Arabic is the mother tongue of around half of its residents. In March the Transportation Ministry added information in English, though that has since been removed. As of now, all bus stop signposts are in Hebrew only.
Khulud Khamis, a feminist activist and writer who lives in Haifa, said there’s a principle at stake, “Since Arabic is an official language in Israel one would expect that there would be [Arabic] sign posting in every public space in the country, irrespective of whether the space is Jewish or mixed.”
She added that, “Practically speaking, in terms of the needs of Arab society, there are many men and women who can’t read Hebrew and they have the basic need and the right to get the information in their mother tongue.” She said translating the names of the stations is important, but more important are the timetables, which are also only available in Hebrew.
“A country in which 20 percent of its population speaks Arabic can’t ignore and erase our language from the public sphere,” she said.
In 2002, the High Court of Justice ordered cities with mixed Jewish-Arab populations to add Arabic to all municipal signs. The petition had demanded that Tel Aviv-Jaffa, Ramle, Lod, Acre and Upper Nazareth add Arabic to all the signs in their jurisdictions. Haifa was not addressed in the petition since at the time all their signs had Arabic on them.
The Transportation Ministry said, “The translation of the information into Arabic is in its final stages, and by the end of August 2016 all the country’s bus stop names will be translated into Arabic. The display of names on the electronic signs will begin immediately. Display of Arabic names on the static signs will take place gradually, with a stress on displaying this information in cities with Arab populations like Haifa, for example.”
Ilan Lior contributed to this report.