30 East Jerusalem streets given Hebrew names, enraging Arab residents

Defending decision, municipality says 800 roads given Arabic names; Arab MKs slam attempt to ‘Judaicize al-Quds’

A child walks past the newly-named Umm Kulthum street in East Jerusalem, October 24, 2012 (photo credit: AP/Bernat Armangue)
A child walks past the newly-named Umm Kulthum street in East Jerusalem, October 24, 2012 (photo credit: AP/Bernat Armangue)

The Jerusalem municipality on Sunday night approved 30 Hebrew street names in predominantly Arab East Jerusalem neighborhoods, drawing fierce condemnation from both Arab residents and lawmakers.

The new Hebrew street names, which were okayed as part of an ongoing project to map out the neighborhoods in the east of the city, were given to areas that house Jewish historical sites, according to the municipality. Over 800 streets in East Jerusalem have already been given Arabic names, city hall said.

Around the City of David archaeological site in the Silwan neighborhood, seven streets were given Hebrew names, including “Ma’alot Ir David” and “Shir LaMa’alot,” according to the Walla news website. On the Mount of Olives, several streets were given Hebrew names reflecting Jewish ties to the site, and in Sheikh Jarrah, two streets will be called “Nahalat Shimon” and “Nahalat Yitzhak.”

The committee decided against naming a street in Sheikh Jarrah “Kohen Gadol” (High Priest), agreeing that the reference to a prominent figure in the Jewish temples would spark riots in East Jerusalem neighborhoods, which have already seen heightened tensions and repeated clashes over the Temple Mount and perceived Israeli attempts to alter the status quo at the holy site. Israel maintains that it is not seeking to change the status quo at the compound known to Muslims as al-Aqsa, the third-holiest site in Islam and most holy in Judaism.

Under the new directive, a street near Damascus Gate will be renamed “Amir Drori,” for the founder of the Israel Antiquities Authority, in a nod to the adjacent Rockefeller Museum, which houses the IAA’s offices.

Former Supreme Court justice Jacob Turkel had advised against giving the streets Hebrew names in light of the security situation. He recommended the committee “reevaluate whether it is appropriate, at this point in time, and in light of the complicated and delicate situation in East Jerusalem,” to give the streets these names. The Jerusalem city hall committee rejected the recommendation.

The decision was met with strong opposition from East Jerusalem residents, who said it would “cause more violence.”

“This is all part of one plan — first, to Judaize al-Aqsa, second, the Arab villages, third, the history and names,” Silwan resident Ahmad Karaeen Abu Hamid told Walla.

Joint (Arab) List party leader Ayman Odeh decried the decision as a “vile attempt” to erase residents’ Palestinian identity.

“We have recently been witness to aggressive attempts to change the status quo in East Jerusalem and deepen the occupation and dispossession. The choice of street names, with a total disregard for who built and lives on these streets for thousands of years, is a vile attempt to eradicate the national Palestinian identity,” he said.

Referring to recent riots in Jerusalem, Joint (Arab) List MK Ahmad Tibi said “someone decided to add fuel to the fire of tensions in Jerusalem, and this is a pyromaniac decision.”

The city’s actions are part of “ongoing efforts to Judaize al-Quds” — the Arabic name for Jerusalem — “and falsify history,” he added.

The Jerusalem municipality defended the decision.

“More than 800 names that were approved in East Jerusalem were selected by the Arabs themselves, giving broad expression to their historical and religious legacy,” it said in a statement. “For sites that have a weighty Jewish historical legacy, the street names reflect this legacy.”

In February, an adviser to Mayor Nir Barkat said the Jerusalem municipality had nearly completed the mapping and naming of streets in East Jerusalem, in what he said was endeavor that would both boost the residents’ sense of belonging and allow city hall to more effectively collect taxes. The naming mechanism allowed local residents to propose street names, which were then vetted by Islam expert Professor Yitzhak Reiter “to preclude terrorists,” the adviser said. Finally, they were approved by a municipal naming committee headed by former Supreme Court justice Turkel.

Elhanan Miller contributed to this report.

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