Tel Aviv's Looking for a Few Good Arabs

The committee in question, which has no Arab members, considered the proposals in a stormy meeting. So vituperative were the exchanges that the chairperson decided not to distribute the minutes.

Adele Azar was a fascinating woman. When she composed her memoirs she related that the Orthodox Ladies Society she founded in Jaffa in 1910 was intended to make it possible for indigent girls to acquire an education; in the streets of her city she was called "Mother of the Poor." In practice, this was political-feminist activity that accorded Azar a place in the history of the Palestinian people. Almost 100 years later, the names committee of the Tel Aviv Municipality has decided to name a street after her in Jaffa.

Other figures who will have streets named after them are the 14th-century historian Abd al-Rahman Ibn Khaldun, the Lebanese poet Gibran Kahlil Gibran, and the writer Emil Habibi - Israel Prize laureate, communist and member of Knesset. Those were the relatively easy decisions. A list of some 40 names swept the municipal committee into the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, where the true battle between the two nations is being waged: the battle over history.

Nearly half the residents of Jaffa are Arabs. Some of the streets there are named after Eastern European rabbis, some bear the names of Plato, Aristotle and Socrates, and of Michelangelo, Gorky and Pushkin. Even more streets have only numbers instead of names. Only five streets are named for Arabs.

The chairperson of the names committee, attorney Haviva Av-Guy from the pensioners' faction, recently asked a number of people - including former MK Yael Dayan, current MK Nadia Hilou and Rifat Turk, a former soccer star - to suggest names of Arabs worthy of commemoration. This is a landmark in the history of a city which, as its centenary approaches, is broadcasting an atmosphere of cosmopolitan openness: Since the state's establishment, Tel Aviv has tended to hide Jaffa's Arab past.

The committee in question, which has no Arab members, considered the proposals in a stormy meeting. So vituperative were the exchanges that the chairperson decided not to distribute the minutes of the meeting even among the committee members themselves, for fear they would be leaked to the press. Rifat Turk, now a member of the city council, is threatening to take the entire matter to court, because the committee members treated the decision they were being asked to make as though the future of the Zionist movement depended on it. One name they rejected was that of Salah a-Din, who conquered Palestine from the Crusaders, because he is today one of the symbols of the Palestinian struggle. Others who were found unworthy are the Nablus poetess Fadwa Toukan and the Palestinian leader Musa Alami.

The mayor's adviser, attorney Ahmed Balaha, submitted three names to the committee, but as of now only the proposal to commemorate Adele Azar with a street name has been accepted. Abd al-Rahman al-Habab was the city engineer and established the first soccer field in Jaffa; the committee approved his name provisionally: it is waiting to hear whether he hated Jews. Another Arab who had a street named after him provisionally is Issam al-Said. His case is hanging by a thread, because Middle East historian Yehoshua Porath, who was asked for his opinion on him, stated that Al-Said was a "declared enemy." The committee is still anguishing and will discuss this again.

Al-Said was the mayor of Jaffa in 1921, when the Jews there came under attack; indeed, one of those killed was the writer Yosef Haim Brenner. The mayor joined the efforts to restore order, and a few months later was described by Tel Aviv mayor Meir Dizengoff as a friend. Al-Said coordinated with Dizengoff the transfer of several Jewish neighborhoods in Jaffa to the jurisdiction of the Tel Aviv Municipality. His rivals vilified him for his readiness to connect Jaffa to the Zionist electricity grid.

In its search for "good Arabs," the committee will have a hard time finding a Palestinian politician who was not a "declared enemy" of Zionism. The committee can look for Arabs who lived in Jaffa after the state's establishment, it can decide that all Jaffa's mayors are street-worthy, in the same way that all Tel Aviv mayors get a street after their deaths, even if they neglected Jaffa and fomented its deterioration from a flourishing city to a backward suburb.

For some reason, one street in Jaffa already bears the name of a Jewish mayor even though he is still alive: Ed Koch, the former mayor of New York.

Can't buy them love

On August 5, 1965, the Beatles were scheduled to give a concert in Ramat Gan Stadium. Most of the tickets had already been sold, and then the concert was canceled. This decision is usually attributed to the narrow-mindedness of the education minister at the time, Zalman Aranne.

This week the story behind the story was revealed for the first time. Malka Epstein was the mother of Brian Epstein, who discovered the Beatles. One day in 1962, wanting to impress her relatives in Israel, she suggested to her son that he organize a concert there for the band. Epstein called the impresario Giora Godik. Godik, who had not yet heard of the Beatles, turned down the offer. Instead, he brought in Cliff Richard, who scored a big success. Godik later realized his mistake, but by then the concert rights had been acquired by a competing agent, Yaakov Ori. Godik never forgave himself for the blunder of his life and decided that no one would benefit from what he had missed: It was a case of either me or no one.

His lawyer, Alex Zak, remembers that the two traveled together to Jerusalem and that Godik told everyone he encountered that the longhaired foursome constituted a terrible cultural threat and were liable to corrupt the souls of Israeli youth. The members of the Knesset Finance Committee believed him and refused to allot the foreign currency Ori needed to underwrite the concert, which was therefore canceled. So it's an ego story, not a tale of cultural ideology.

The revelation was made in the documentary film "Waiting for Godik," directed by Ari Davidovich, which was screened this week within the framework of the Wolgin Award competition at the Jerusalem Film Festival.

New book

Moshe Hananel, a tourism entrepreneur, who is now almost blind, went through the 1946 Jerusalem telephone directory and investigated the stories behind the names: advocates and merchants, adventurers, dreamers and crooks - Jews and Arabs alike, involved in love affairs and cheating, murder and espionage. "Hayerushalmim" ("The Jerusalemites," published by Eretz Hazvi magazine) is a volume of nostalgia, rich in photographs, an enthralling labor of love.