Late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
There will no longer be a street named after Yasser Arafat in Israel, the Interior Ministry decided Sunday, setting off the ire of Arab MKs and activists.
A letter published by Interior Minister Arye Deri ordered the municipality of Jatt, ten kilometers east of Hadera, to remove signs designating a local street as Yasser Arafat Street within 48 hours. Local residents say the sign has been up for nine years, but Deri’s letter stipulates that it never was approved by the ministry.
The Deri letter came after a Facebook post in which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wrote: “In the state of Israel, a street will not be named after Arafat. And we will see to it that the sign is taken down.”
Jatt Mayor Muhammad Watad said it was possible no final approval had been granted by the ministry for the name, which came into use long before his administration.
“We intend to get a legal opinion and will act accordingly. Everything will be done according to the law.”
Whatever its origins, removing the name now could be unpopular among residents, he said.
“Instead of dealing with the acute and substantive problems in this country, they are focusing on someone who earned the Nobel Peace Prize, signed agreements with Israel and was recognized internationally as the legitimate representative of the Palestinian people. I think all this attention on the street is aimed at distracting from what is happening with the prime minister, from his investigations,” Watad said.
The right-wing organization Im Tirtzu became active in the fight against the street name after it was contacted by a group of disabled soldiers led by Liran Baruch, who lost vision in an eye in a battle in Kalandiya in 2002, for help in protesting it. Baruch had heard of Arafat Street from a friend who encountered it in a Waze navigation.
“This is a mass murderer who didn’t change his ways,” he said of Arafat. “We expect the Palestinian Authority not to call squares after terrorists, and here we find, inside the country, in an Israeli city a street named after Arafat. How is it possible?” he asked.
Matan Peleg, CEO of Im Tirzu, said: “Arafat’s hands are stained with blood and there is no greater disgrace to the thousands of Israelis murdered under Arafat’s command than immortalizing his name in the streets of Israel.”
The view from the Left, was quite different, however.
Raja Zaatry, an official of the Hadash party, said Netanyahu’s intervention in the controversy had wide significance.
“It is part of trying to take away the symbolic resources from Arab citizens. The idea is go keep us as Arab-Israelis and not as part of the Palestinian people, while we consider ourselves part of the Palestinian people and citizens of Israel.
We have the right to have our symbolic resources in our town. Yasser Arafat is the father of the Palestinian nation and also agreed to make peace with Israel and recognize Israel. Accusing Arab citizens of supporting terrorism and saying Arafat is a terrorist is incitement, its part of the policy of making Arabs enemies.”
MK Yousef Jabareen (Joint List) said Arafat’s name “is tied like an umbilical cord to the Palestinian national narrative.”
“Netanyahu’s objection to calling a street after Arafat in an Arab town expresses both his denial of the uniqueness of the Arab minority and his objection to any historical reconciliation with the Palestinian people.”
The impending removal of the Arafat street name also raised objections in Ramallah, with PLO Executive Committee member Wasel Abu Yusuf terming it “a racist measure.”
He told the WAFA news agency that Netanyahu’s intervention “is an effort to obliterate international Palestinian symbols from the memory of the Palestinian people.
Adam Rasgon contributed to this article.