PM Decries ‘Yasser Arafat Street’ in Galilee Town

Fatah gunmen in front of a poster of late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. (AP Photo/Mohammed Zaatari)

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu on Sunday declared that no street in Israel would be named after arch-terrorist Yasser Arafat. Speaking at the weekly cabinet meeting, PM Netanyahu said that he had discussed the plan by the Jatt local council to name a street after Arafat with Interior Minister Rabbi Aryeh Deri, who had promised to halt the plan.

“We cannot allow streets to be named after terrorists like Arafat and Haj Amin al-Husseini in Israel,” Netanyahu said. “We will find a way to stop this, and if legislation is required to accomplish this, then we will pass it.” Netanyahu demanded that the Jatt council immediately remove the name of Arafat from street signs in the town.

The fact of the naming was discovered by accident last week, when the name of the street showed up in the Waze navigation app. It has garnered much criticism both throughout Israel, and even in the town itself. Jatt is a Druze township in the lower Galilee (within the Green Line), and many of the town’s residents served in the IDF. It was a group of local IDF veterans who voiced the first public opposition to the plan.

Despite the local opposition, the Jatt local council over the weekend installed a street sign declaring that a main street in the city was now “Yasser Arafat Street.” On Sunday, Rabbi Deri issued a sharp reprimand to the council, and demanded that the signs be removed within 48 hours – otherwise, the local authority would face penalties, including possible withholding of transfer payments. “The request to rename the street was not approved by the relevant committee in the Interior Ministry, and the name of the street does not appear in any of the Ministry’s records,” Rabbi Deri wrote in a letter to the council. “Taking the circumstances into consideration, I request that you act within 48 hours to remove signs that use the name Yasser Arafat from local streets.”

Speaking on Army Radio Sunday, Jatt Mayor Muhammad Watted said that he did not understand the furor over the matter. “It’s unfortunate that the Prime Minister has left aside the truly important issues to deal with the name of a street in a small town like Jatt. I can understand that he is under political pressure. We will take into consideration requests on the matter, and act within the strictures of the legal system as required. I understand the pain and anger, but as far as we are concerned, Yasser Arafat is a leader.”

Jatt for several years has had a street named after the Grand Mufti during the Holocaust period, Haj Amin al-Husseini. Husseini assisted Adolf Hitler in plotting the Final Solution that led to the destruction of European Jewry. That street name was approved by the Interior Ministry in 2010. In his letter to the council, Rabbi Deri did not relate to that street name.