21/Aug/2014 - Last News Update: 02:47

Israel-Palestinian conflict writ large on road signs

Category: Headlines

Published: 17th Aug 2011 01:30:52

The increasingly heated dispute over place names in Israel underlies a much greater political struggle, the BBC's Yolande Knell explains from Jerusalem.

"Where are you going?" asked the friendly, but slightly over-familiar, Jewish-Israeli boy sitting next to me on the plane from London.

"I work in Jerusalem," I replied.

His smile instantly turned to a scowl. "It's not Jerusalem," he said. "It's Yerushalayim".

"That's in Hebrew, but in English we say Jerusalem," I protested and I was about to add - somewhat mischievously - that my Palestinian friends refer to it as "al-Quds" - the Arabic name for the city.

But at that point, the boy's little sister spilled orange juice over his lap. Our conversation was cut short.

Land may be at the heart of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict but every day the struggle to control the historical narrative is played out most tangibly in language.

Place names are the most obvious example.

If some prominent politicians on the Israeli right have their way, then in future the road signs here will only point to "Yerushalayim".

A proposal to have all signs displaying just the transliterations of Hebrew names of cities and towns is being considered by a new ministerial committee.

There is strong opposition among Israel's population of more than one million Arab-Israelis but also from members of the Government Names Committee.

These independent experts have been responsible for selecting place names since the 1950s - not long after the creation of the state of Israel. They argue that changing the system will confuse tourists.

But others believe that complete Judaisation of the map is long overdue.

At 32, Tzipi Hotovely is the youngest member of the Israeli parliament. A well-qualified lawyer and religious right-winger, she is also seen as the ideological voice and rising star of the prime minister's Likud party.

She finds it unacceptable that although Hebrew names were given to Jerusalem neighbourhoods years ago, many Arabic ones have stuck.

For example, while the names of streets around the prime minister's residence read like an A to Z of Zionism, the upscale area itself is still called by its original Arabic name "Talbiya" - instead of "Komemiyut" or "Independence" - its given Hebrew name.

The same goes for Bakah and Malha, alias Geulim and Manahat.

Ms Hotovely has introduced a bill that would require different neighbourhoods to be identified by their Hebrew names only - on signposts, official documents and in state media.

She sees it as part of the wider battle for Jerusalem - which both Israelis and Palestinians claim as their capital. Names are "very powerful symbols" she tells me.

The biggest problems arise in East Jerusalem - which was occupied by Israel in 1967 and is still a mainly Arab area - although Jewish settlers are fast moving in, taking over Palestinian homes.

Ms Hotovely wants the names of its quarters changed too.

"Most places in the east side of Jerusalem are part of our biblical heritage. It is very important to know the cultural history. The city was founded by David the King and many neighbourhoods are originally Jewish neighbourhoods," she says.

For Huda Imam, a well-known, energetic Palestinian activist born in the Sheikh Jarrah area of East Jerusalem, such pronouncements are worrying.

Already she says she sees more and more signs for Shimon HaTzedik instead of Sheikh Jarrah.

The Hebrew name indicates the tomb is thought to belong to an ancient Jewish priest while the Arabic derives from the surgeon of the 12th Century Muslim leader, Saladin.

Huda points out the landmarks that suggest her neighbourhood's vibrant Arab history.

Many recent ones are tinged with a sense of loss like the Hind al-Husseini orphan school, Orient House, once the Jerusalem headquarters for Palestinian officials, and the Shepherd Hotel, demolished in January.

On the hillside there is also the green-shuttered house that Huda's own father built and which, she says, the Israeli authorities confiscated and later sold.

She feels that Israel is abandoning hopes of peaceful co-existence.

"I don't want to say they're succeeding because I'm still here," she adds. "But it's destroying any trust. They're erasing all traces of Palestinian identity."

There are many Palestinians and some Jewish Israelis trying to stop that from happening.

On Fridays, they organise noisy demonstrations on the streets in Sheikh Jarrah. Often there are scuffles with settlers, both sides asserting their competing claims.

The continuing fight for the rights to Jerusalem, and all the holy land, takes many forms.

BBC News External Link Show Citation

Latest News

Harvard Citation

BBC News, 2011. Israel-Palestinian conflict writ large on road signs [Online] (Updated 17th Aug 2011)
Available at: http://www.ukwirednews.com/news/178345/Israel-Palestinian-conflict-writ-large-on-road-signs [Accessed 21st Aug 2014]

News In Other Categories

  • Yachtsman taken to hospital after Newport Bay incident

    A yachtsman has been taken to hospital after getting into difficulty in Newport Bay in Pembrokeshire.
  • UK's 'most generous town' revealed

    Bedford has been crowned the UK's most generous town, according to data gathered by donation site JustGiving.
  • Treasury Wine Estates hit as it destroys excess wine

    Australian winemaker Treasury Wine Estates (TWE) has reported its first annual loss due to slower sales in China and oversupply in the US market.
  • Bristol Academy extends reach overseas with first foreign students

    With the doors to its brand new £1million training centre officially open, one of the UK's leading apprentice training providers, Bristol based S&B Automotive Academy, is showcasing its world-class facilities by launching a series of foreign student exchanges for the first time in its 41-year history. To get a flavour of what life is like as an apprentice in the UK, the Academy hosted 16 apprentice engineers and bus drivers from the G9 Automotive College in Hamburg, Germany, as part of a Europe-wide vocational training initiative called the ‘Leonardo Programme’ with support from the European Social Fund. In a reciprocal arrangement, S&B will be sending nine apprentices to Germany during February 2012 so that they can get an appreciation of life in the automotive industry on the Continent. A further three German exchange groups are being planned for next year. Designed to assist the development of vocational skills and training across Europe, including work placements for trainees, the Leonardo Programme has a budget of €1.75bn, which is helping to encourage UK organisations to work with their counterparts abroad. In what is expected to be another challenging year for employers in the UK automotive sector, S&B’s Chief Executive, Jon Winter, claims that the exchange initiative will bring many benefits to the Academy and its apprentices: “In a world of global automotive brands, it’s important for our learners to understand the international context of the industry they have chosen to make their career. This new exchange programme will enable apprentices and Academy staff alike to achieve a better understanding of the challenges and opportunities within the automotive arena in Europe. With the Academy’s influence also extending to the USA and Asia, there’s every possibility that this initiative could move further afield in the future.” Continued Winter: “The need for skilled technicians across the world is on the increase and we actively encourage our apprentices to look at broader horizons during their training. Many of them have already learned the phrase ‘Vorsprung durch Gelehrtheit’, quite simply, ‘Advancement through learning.” In the 2010/11 academic year, S&B doubled the number of successful Apprenticeships over the previous year with some 350 apprentices graduating from the Academy. At the same time, achievement levels reached an all-time high with an overall success rate of 85%. For those learners on the Advanced Apprenticeship three-year programme, success rates were even higher, at over 98%. PHOTO CAPTION: As part of their exchange visit, S&B Automotive Academy arranged for the German apprentices to visit Hampshire bus operator, Bluestar, at its Barton Park depot. The students are pictured with S&B’s Andy West (3rd right) and Steve Prewett, Bluestar’s Area Engineering Manager (2nd right). Ends http://www.sandbaa.com
  • Gossip column: Alonso, Balotelli, Rhodes and Cech

    For a list of confirmed transfers, check out the transfers page.
  • Labour pledges to remove 'bad' energy firms licences

    Labour says it will give the regulator Ofgem power to remove energy firms' licences, if it wins the next election.