Call for Hebrew signs in Arab areas

By Ben Lynfield, December 17, 2009

The Jerusalem municipality will require shopkeepers in east Jerusalem to put up Hebrew signs on their stores in a bid to affirm that the area is part of Israel’s capital, according to Deputy Mayor David Hadari.

Arab storekeepers oppose the plan, which has also come under attack from liberal city councillors.

“This is part of having sovereignty in Jerusalem and of our identity as the state of the Jews,” Mr Hadari said. “There must be Hebrew letters.”

According to a bylaw dating from the administration of Teddy Kollek, who was mayor from 1965 to 1993, there must be Hebrew lettering at least half the size of the Arabic or English lettering on signs.

According to Amir Cheshin, Mr Kollek’s adviser on Arab affairs, the bylaw was never enforced.

But Mr Hadari said that within a few months, violators will be fined.

The plan emerged during a city council meeting last week, where measures were discussed to boost Israel’s presence in east Jerusalem. This was in response to a recent flurry of European diplomatic activity, including a Swedish attempt to have east Jerusalem recognised as the Palestinian capital.

The city will also send more parking and building inspectors to crack down on violations in east Jerusalem.

Cllr Yakir Segev, who holds the portfolio for east Jerusalem affairs, said: “This is a law and the law must be enforced in east Jerusalem, whether it is a big law or a small law.”

Asked whether shopkeepers in west Jerusalem would be required to post signs in Arabic, Mr Segev replied: “No, because that is not the law.”

He added, however, that enforcement should be directed only at popular tourist areas such as the Mount of Olives and the Old City and “not against a grocery store in Jabal Mukaber”, an outlying Palestinian neighbourhood. He said the bylaw should also be applied in downtown east Jerusalem’s main thoroughfare, Salah al-Din Street.

Imad Muna, owner of the Educational Book Store on Salah al-Din Street, called the plan “very bad”.

“We will refuse to do it. There is nobody here except for Palestinians and foreigners who don’t know Hebrew. It won’t help us. It’s like learning Hebrew by force.”

Mr Cheshin said that enforcing the bylaw “should be the municipality’s last priority” in east Jerusalem.

“There are so many areas where we need to bring about equality in services, where the difference are enormous. They get absurdly little budgets. They are short 1,000 classrooms. So why make an issue out of signs?”

Laura Wharton, a councillor from the liberal Meretz party, said the bylaw could be challenged in the courts, which overturned a similar measure in Nazareth.

Last updated: 4:47pm, December 17 2009