Law requires e. J'lem businesses to have signs in Hebrew

Jerualem Mayor Nir Barkat wants the city's Signage Committee to ‘change and reduce’ the five-year-old legislation.

December 17, 2010 04:52
3 minute read.
Arabic language signs in east Jerusalem

Arabic language signs in east Jerusalem 311. (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)

Arab businesses in east Jerusalem may be required to furnish their stores with Hebrew signs, if the municipality’s Signage Committee decides to enforce a five-yearold law that requires all of the city’s stores to have signs in Hebrew.

According to a law passed by the previous administration under Mayor Uri Lupolianski, all Jerusalem businesses, including those that serve exclusively Arab clientele in east Jerusalem, would be required to have at least 50 percent of their signs in Hebrew.

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Mayor Nir Barkat instructed the Signage Committee to look into the issue over a year ago, in order to “reduce and change this law for the benefit of the merchants,” a municipality spokeswoman told The Jerusalem Post. The committee is currently debating the issue in its bi-weekly meetings, and it is unlikely they will support the current law.

The law has never been implemented, but would face serious court challenges if it was enforced. Another problematic aspect of the law is that the store owners would have had to pay for the additional signs or changes to their current signs out of their own pocket.

“They want to make Jerusalem look just Jewish,” said Muhammad Abu Sna’aleh, who has a cellphone accessories shop in a commercial center near Damascus Gate, where all the lettering was in Arabic. “They want to change the Palestinian part, so that when you see signs in Hebrew, it looks like the Jewish part.”

The law has been widely reported about in the Arabic press, though few store owners believe that it would ever be enforced, said Sami Hashem, owner of a traditional women’s clothing store in the same commercial center.

“It’s good to have laws about signs, so that people can’t just put signs wherever they want,” Hashem said. “But this law is trying to make the area Jewish. Look around, most people here are Arab, not Jewish, so why should I put up a sign in Hebrew?”

While the original law was aimed mainly at east Jerusalem, the law could apply to west Jerusalem as well, including the English-heavy downtown area around the Ben-Yehuda pedestrian mall, where many stores have English-only signs to appeal to tourists.

“What are you going to do, write ‘Coffee Bean’ in Hebrew?” laughed the manager of a coffee shop on Jaffa Road that is part of a large national chain, who declined to give her name because she was not authorized to speak for the company.

She said that more than 40% of her customers were from abroad and spoke only English. “This is a touristy area, everyone here works off of the tourists, so it seems like a really stupid idea,” she said. Additionally, many national chains, like Café Hillel, have recognizable trademarks for English-only names.

But some stores said they would welcome the idea of 50/50 Hebrew and English.

“[Signs] should have Hebrew, because we’re in Jerusalem,” said Rebecca Eisenstein, a waitress at Mike’s Place, an American pub with no Hebrew writing on its sign.

Though the law is unlikely to ever be enforced, its discussion has highlighted the fragile tensions between businesses in west and east Jerusalem.

“I think if they want to make it a law, then the Jewish people must always write in Arabic as well,” said Hashem. “That’s when we’ll write in Hebrew.”

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