'Yerushalayim' or 'Jerusalem'?

Transport minister wants to transliterate English, Arabic place names.

sign road 248.88 AJ (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
sign road 248.88 AJ
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
There was once a road sign near the airport that had newcomers so confused it became a national joke. The sign read, "NATBAG," a transliteration of the Hebrew acronym for Ben-Gurion Airport. Perhaps because they realized their mistake, the authorities took it down. But now they seem to be at it again. A new initiative by Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz, seeks to introduce uniformity, as well as make a political statement, by changing the English place names on road signs to better reflect their Hebrew pronunciation. So next time you travel along the main roads, don't be surprised if instead of signs pointing you to Jerusalem, you'll see signs saying Yerushalayim, and instead of Tiberias you'll be on your way to Tverya. Katz, a Likud member, has found a way to instill his political views into the workings of his ministerial post, as changes will also be made to the Arabic names of places. "If someone wants to turn Jewish Jerusalem into Palestinian 'al-Kuds,' it won't happen with the aid of road signs, not with this government and definitely not with this minister," Katz told Yediot Aharonot. "Almost every Israeli town has a former name," Katz said. "There are Palestinian maps where Israeli towns have Arabic names from before 1948. They refer to these places as settlements. I will not lend a hand to it on our signs." Arab Israelis see the move as an insult to their national identity. Ra'am-Ta'al MK Ibrahim Sarsur called the move, "an act of racism, plain and simple. I can't find another term that can describe the moral deterioration of the transportation minister, and unfortunately of the other ministers of the government, too." Sarsur said that he warned of such developments when the ministry changed all of the signs indicating the valleys on the side of the Trans-Israel Highway from their Arabic names to their Hebrew names. "The transportation minister is attempting to paint the road signs with his ideological brush. How did we arrive at a point when a simple sign is seen as a threat to the security of the state?" he said. Sarsur called on the prime minister to rein Katz in and tell him that he's gone too far. "It's ridiculous, the spelling on the signs won't change our identity. For us, Jerusalem will forever be 'al-Kuds.'" Historically, the English spelling of place names on road signs has been haphazard. Thus, a place like Caesarea can be seen spelled Ceysaria on one sign, Qesarya on another and Qesariyya on a third. Likewise the town of Zichron Ya'acov is alternately spelled Zikron Yakov, Ziqron Ya'akov and Zikhron Ya'aqov. Often, the names in the three languages are not the same at all. For example, the port area in southern Tel Aviv is called Yaffo in Hebrew, Jaffa in English and Yafa in Arabic. "The lack of consistency bothers foreign-language speakers, both residents and tourists. It reduces drivers' ability to navigate to their destinations. We therefore decided to change all of the signs to reflect their Hebrew pronunciation, as is customary in other countries of the world," said the head of the Traffic Planning Department in the Transportation Ministry. A special signs committee in the ministry sat down with experts from the Academy of the Hebrew Language to determine the standard Hebrew spelling of the place names. They then determined the correct transliteration into Latin characters and Arabic. The changes to the signs are to take place gradually over time, with the new spelling replacing the old one only when it becomes necessary to replace the sign because of wear and tear or route changes. When asked how the changes will help tourists, new immigrants and others who don't know Hebrew, the Transportation Ministry spokesman said, "Most of the names in Hebrew are well known. We expect people to familiarize themselves with the Hebrew names for their destinations." A Tourism Ministry spokeswoman expressed surprise at a question about the changes, saying the ministry was not aware of them. She said the ministry could not respond until it had more information.