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