Jerusalem mayor Nir Barkat dedicated Um Kulthum Street in Beit Hanina on Wednesday afternoon as a symbolic gesture marking the first year of naming streets in east Jerusalem since 1967. Over the past year, the municipality has given official names to 145 streets in Zur Baher, Beit Hanina, Shuafat, Issawiya, Abu Tor, Silwan and Ras al-Amud.
According to City Councilor Meir Margalit (Meretz) who holds the east Jerusalem portfolio, approximately 1,000 streets in east Jerusalem lack recognized names. This leads to a host of bureaucratic difficulties, including paramedics and firefighters who cannot find houses in an emergency, and means hundreds of thousands of Arab residents have no mail delivery.
Part of the pressure for naming the streets is due to a petition from the Association for Civil Rights in Israel concerning the lack of postal services in east Jerusalem. The postal service replied that without street names, they cannot deliver mail.
The city also has an interest in organizing the chaos of streets in east Jerusalem. It’s difficult to serve residents with no addresses summons to appear in court or send them fines for parking violations. Sometimes important court documents or fines are sent with the address “Tzur Baher 0000, Jerusalem,” Margalit said. Last November, the municipality announced an effort to name 100 streets in the Shuafat and Beit Hanina neighborhoods.
On Wednesday, Barkat lauded the NIS 500 million that will be invested in east Jerusalem roads and infrastructure over the coming years, and touted the street names as “another example of the wide range of activities we are undertaking to reduce gaps in east Jerusalem.” Singer Nasreen Kadari, who won the reality TV show “Eyal Golan is Calling You,” serenaded the crowd with covers of one of Egyptian singer Um Kulthum’s most famous song, Enta Omri, during the ceremony.
The street names are approved by the Municipality’s Naming Committee but are submitted by residents, based on existing local names for the streets. In Beit Hanina, for streets that had no historical names, a group of local leaders chose pleasant names like “happiness,” “patience,” “love,” the names of Muslim prophets, or capitals of Arab countries. The city’s Naming Committee rejected a small percentage of the names for being too political.
“We are really just waiting to see their influence on lives of the residents,” said Nisreen Alyan, an attorney with ACRI. “We really hope they will continue naming streets, also in the more neglected and poorer neighborhoods of east Jerusalem.”