East Jerusalem roads to be named

For 1st time since 1967, more than 100 streets in e.J'lem will receive official names; move expected to help solve mail delivery, other problems.

Arabic language signs in east Jerusalem 311 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
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.
City Councilor 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.
The 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 too political.
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 anti-Semitic.
“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.
While the 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 Jerusalem.
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 and Silwan.
“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.
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 residents.
“It’s clear that the distribution of mail to places without addresses is an irrational task,” she said.