I Would Be Happy to Live on an Israeli Yasser Arafat St.

Every nation’s heroes are stained with blood. Some of the heroes for whom Israeli streets are named have a lot more blood on their hands than Yasser Arafat did.

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Yasser Arafat with Palestinian security forces in Gaza in 1995.
Yasser Arafat with Palestinian security forces in Gaza in 1995. Credit: AP
Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy

I would be happy to live on Yasser Arafat Street in Ramat Aviv. It would be inspiring to live on a street named for a Nobel Peace Prize winner; it would instill hope to live on a street named for a former enemy and the founding father of the neighboring nation, members of which lived in the village on whose ruins the neighborhood was built and who himself tried to make peace with Israel.

The gesture of a street named for the destroyed village, Sheikh Munis, would also be a high honor for the neighborhood and the country. If Israel only had a little more confidence in the justice of its path, the idea wouldn’t be so far-fetched.

But I live on a street that bears the name of an Anglo-Jewish statesman, the viceroy of India, Rufus Daniel Isaacs, the Marquess of Reading. I doubt that there’s a single person living on the street who knows who he was or why a main street is named for him.

Yasser Arafat street sign in the Israeli Arab town of Jatt.Credit: Haaretz

Our streets are generally named for Zionist activists and rabbis, which is certainly acceptable. Less acceptable is to use such names for streets where Arabs live. Dov of Mezeritch, Besht (Baal Shem Tov), Zalman Meisel, Shivtei Yisrael and Avodat Yisrael are streets in Arab Jaffa. In some mixed cities the provocation is even more brazen. The main street in Ramle of course bears the name of Binyamin Ze’ev Herzl, while Hapalmach, Ha’etzel, Beitar and Yitzhak Sadeh are streets where at least some of the residents are Arabs. In Lod the situation is similar; Tzahal Boulevard near the Al Omari mosque, and Eliyahu Golomb, Exodus and Aliya Bet streets near the market and Khan el-Hilu.

There are almost no Arab street names and certainly no sensitivity. The entrance bridge to Nazareth is named for IDF Chief of Staff Rafael Eitan, one of the greatest Arab-haters, who compared them to drugged cockroaches. Since the bridge was built, his legacy echoes for every Nazareth driver who crosses it. That’s how an Israeli minority is treated.

But that’s not enough. The Arab town of Jatt decided a few months ago to name a street after the father of its nation. The existence of an Arafat Street in the State of Israel came to the authorities’ attention belatedly, but it’s never too late to cause a scandal and oppress a minority. The prime minister said he would not agree for the country to have “streets named after the enemies of Israel.” The interior minister was told to act, the local council chairman capitulated and the name of the street was removed. There is no Arafat, his name has been erased. Maybe the street will instead be named after Elor Azaria. That would be amusing if the effort to delete, overwrite and choke off any national sentiment wasn’t so shocking. Only Jews may be remembered.

Back to my neighborhood. Its northern part, Ramat Aviv Gimmel, is a neighborhood of terrorists. Almost all its streets are named for Jewish terrorists who blew up buses, attacked trains and murdered people. Eliyahu Hakim and Eliyahu Beit Zuri, the murderers of Lord Moyne; Meir Feinstein, who attacked a train station; Shlomo Ben Yosef, who attacked a bus; Moshe Barazani, who blew up a train in Malha; and Yehiel Dresner, who attacked a train in Lod. The blood of innocents is on their hands. Even more blood is on the hands of Rehavam Ze’evi, who also has a street in the city named for him, near the port.

Every nation and its heroes, all of them stained with blood. Some of the heroes for whom Israeli streets are named have a lot more blood on their hands than Yasser Arafat did. You should have seen the right-wing screamers in the Knesset when MK Ahmed Tibi said Arafat was “the father of the Palestinian nation.” For these boors there is no such nation and no father.

Arafat will be forever remembered by his people with or without a street in Jatt. Israel will miss him yet. Neither Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu nor Interior Minister Arye Dery will be able to erase his memory in Jatt, nor on the streets of Ashkelon.

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