This Way to Natsrat / State May Eradicate Foreign Place Names

Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz proposes road sides display transliterations of Hebrew names of cities and towns.

If Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz has his way, there will be no road signs pointing the way to "Jerusalem."

Instead, all the signs would display transliterations of the Hebrew names of cities and towns, thus eliminating the alternative names in English and Arabic - like "Jerusalem" and "Al Quds," in favor of the transliterated "Yerushalayim."

Katz's controversial proposal will be examined by a ministerial committee that will make a binding decision on whether the signposts should be changed, the cabinet decided yesterday. The panel will also discuss a plan by the Government Names Committee to come up with standard, uniform spellings of names of locales that appear on road signs.

"There's no Arab who doesn't know what the name 'Yerushalayim' means," Katz has said. "Some of them may not like it, but they all know."

The Government Names Committee, a group of professional appointees that has been responsible for selecting names for cities, towns and other sites since 1950, staunchly opposes across-the-board transliteration.

"The committee thinks that the entire world knows Yerushalayim as 'Jerusalem,' and that's also the case with other places that have biblical names and that are known by the names used in the Bible in other languages," said committee chairman Moshe Brawer, a professor emeritus of geography at Tel Aviv University. "Such a proposal would be harmful to tourists and to tourism."

In addition to Jerusalem, other cities that would be affected by the change include Nazareth, which Katz proposed be spelled "Natsrat" in English, and Hebron, which is known in Arabic as Al Khalil.

"If there's a traditional name that everyone knows, you can't just suddenly eradicate it," said Brawer. "You can't get rid of 'Al Khalil' and just write 'Hevron.'"

Brawer said the committee was a professional body, not a political one, and that the 22 members - including those on the far left and far right of the political spectrum and 16 professors or senior lecturers - was unanimous in its opposition.

Other opponents of the proposal include Adalah, a legal advocacy group for Israeli Arab rights, and MK Avishay Braverman (Labor ), a former minister of minority affairs.

The ministerial committee that was approved yesterday is tasked with approving "a uniform spelling for the names of towns, interchanges, junctions and historic sites across the country," which all government institutions would have to adopt, the Prime Minister's Office said in a statement.

The committee will be headed by Benny Begin, a minister without portfolio from Likud, and will also include Katz and eight other ministers.