Arabic language signs in east Jerusalem 311.
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
The combination of east Jerusalem’s lack of urban planning and epidemic of
illegal building has led to a chaotic maze of crowded streets that lack names
and recognition, creating a nightmare for residents trying to do everything from
receive a letter to call an ambulance. But for the first time since 1967, more
than 100 streets in east Jerusalem will receive official names recognized by the
municipality as the first step of a year-long process to officially name all of
the streets in east Jerusalem.
The Beit Hanina-Shuafat region is the
first neighborhood in the program to assign official names to streets. Hussam
Watad, the director of the community council of Beit Hanina, said the
neighborhood submitted a list of more than 100 street names, almost all of the
streets in the neighborhood.
Most of these streets already had names that
the residents used but were not officially recognized.
Meir Margalit (Meretz) who holds the east Jerusalem portfolio, estimated that
there are at least 1,000 unnamed roads in east Jerusalem and the process of
assigning names will take at least a year. In the first round, the community
council at Beit Hanina was given aerial photographs and asked to assign names to
the highlighted roads.
“There’s a double meaning to this,” said Margalit.
“First, that they’re giving names to the streets, there’s a message: We want to
recognize that you exist. If there were no names, the underlying message is that
we don’t recognize you,” he said. “Secondly, there’s a political meaning, that
the municipality is not deciding for them what’s good or what’s bad,” but
allowing residents to choose their own names, said Margalit.
Committee for Municipality and Public Names, which approves street names, will
meet at the end of November to officially approve the list of names.
Unofficially, roughly 95 percent of the names on the list submitted by Beit
Hanina were accepted, with a few exceptions for names the municipality deemed
Watad stressed that the neighborhood choose “parve” names,
in this case referring to neutrality, so as not to provoke controversy. “We
tried to stay away from political names because our goal isn’t to argue with the
municipality, we want to solve the current problem that residents are suffering
from,” Watad said.
For streets that had no historical names, the
committee chose pleasant names like “happiness,” “patience,” “love,” the names
of Muslim prophets, or capitals of Arab countries. One of the few names that is
not expected to pass is the “Naji Al Ali Road,” named after the famous
Palestinian cartoonist, as the municipality found some of Al Ali’s cartoons
“It will be great for firefighters and paramedics who will
be able to know how to get to specific areas, because if there’s a name it’s
much easier,” Watad said.
Though Watad said he disagrees with Jerusalem
mayor Nir Barkat’s political opinions, he praised him for finally realizing a
project that residents have been requesting for years.
Part of the
pressure to give names to the streets comes from within the city. 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 would be sent
with the address “Tzur Baher 0000, Jerusalem,” said Margalit.
street names will go part of the way toward solving the mail crisis in east
Jerusalem, the biggest problem with the deficient mail service is the lack of
Post Office branches in east Jerusalem, said Margalit and Watad. Next Wednesday,
the High Court of Justice will hear a petition from the Association for Civil
Rights in Israel (ACRI) over the mail distribution problems in east
ACRI attorney Keren Tzafrir said that mail deliveries to east
Jerusalem are so chaotic that in the east Jerusalem neighborhood of Issawiya,
mail is delivered to local convenience stores, but not always the same one.
Residents only learn if they have mail if they happen to enter a store where the
employees remember there is a letter waiting for them.
In response, the
Postal Authority said that three post office branches have opened in the past
three years in east Jerusalem, in the neighborhoods of Jebl Mukaber, Beit Hanina
“In some areas of east Jerusalem there are objective
limitations that make it difficult for the Israel Post to continue to improve
the service for residents,” said Postal Authority spokeswoman Merav
Lapidot said that despite repeated requests to the municipality
to clarify the street names, the mail carriers struggle with the lack of street
signs, often relying on local knowledge to try to locate the
“It’s clear that the distribution of mail to places without
addresses is an irrational task,” she said.