Arabs Petition Against Jewish Names for Streets in Neighborhood

A view of Shiloach (Silwan), in eastern Yerushalayim. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Twenty seven Arab residents of the Silwan (Shiloach) neighborhood have filed a petition with a Yerushalayim court against the renaming of five streets in the neighborhood after Yemenite rabbis and figures. The petition says that the decision was made by the municipal committee that deals with street names against the advice of a governmental committee that recommended against changing the names.

The decision to change the names was made about two months ago. Some of the streets in question currently do not have names, while one is named after an Arab family. They are located in the historic Yemenite Quarter of the neighborhood. The area was populated by Jews for hundreds of years, until they were forced to leave in 1948, when Jordanian forces occupied the area. In recent years, dozens of Jewish families have returned to the neighborhood.

The streets will be named after the Ezra Hanidachim organization, a Yemenite humanitarian group that assisted immigrants in the 19th century; Harav Sa’adia Maimoni, a leader of the second wave of immigration of Yemenite immigrants in the late 1800s; Harav Avraham Elnadaf, who established the Shivat Tziyon organization to acquire agricultural land for Yemenite immigrants; Harav Yahya Yitzchak Halevi, leader of the kehillah in the Yemenite town of San’a; and Harav Shalom Alsheich Halevi, one of the heads of the Yemenite community in Yerushalayim at the beginning of the 20th century.

In their petition, the 27 Arabs said that “giving Jewish names to streets in a neighborhood with a large majority of Palestinians harms their rights and their honor. Forcing street names on this population means that we are ignoring their heritage and their culture, adding to the discrimination faced by this population for many years. It is an attempt to erase their culture from the city’s public space.” The renaming would also “create tension” within the Arab population, the petitioners said.

The Israel Civil Rights Association also railed against the renaming. In a letter to Mayor Moshe Leon, the Association said that despite its history, “the area is now occupied by a large majority of Palestinians. Naming streets after Jewish rabbis is a political act bordering on radical unreasonableness, and was taken against the advice of legal experts, who said that the naming of the streets did not serve the residents.

Commenting on the name change, Yerushalayim City Council member Aryeh King said that “I see the naming of the streets as another step in the imposing of Israeli sovereignty on these areas and making them into Jewish neighborhoods. I voted for this name change and will vote for others, to change the names of streets currently named for Arabs. I would have expected the leftists to at least support the changing of the names of several streets in areas that were historically Jewish.”