Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, Sept/Oct 2009, Page 11, 21

Gaza on the Ground

Israel’s Latest Attempt to Wipe Palestine Off the Map

By Mohammed Omer

This November 2007 photo shows an Israeli settler riding a horse in the illegal West Bank outpost of Nofi Nehamiya, past roads signs on which the Arabic names for Jerusalem and Ariel have been blacked out. (AFP photo/Jack Guez)

The Cairo-based League of Arab States has denounced a July 13 decision by the Israeli Transport Ministry to eliminate Arabic and English names of cities and towns on its road signs and use only Hebrew ones.

In a press release, Mohammed Sobeih, the 22-member organization’s deputy secretary general in charge of Palestinian affairs, described the new Israeli policy as “a grave racist move."

Israeli road signs currently are trilingual, in Hebrew, Arabic and English. Occupied Jerusalem, for example, is identified as “Yerushalaim" in Hebrew, “Jerusalem" in English and “Al Quds" in Arabic. Under the new policy the Holy City will be identified only as “Yerushalaim" in all three scripts.

“This decision is part of a series of measures and Israeli policies aimed at imposing the ”Jewish state’ motto," Sobeih stated. He urged “all international organizations...to oppose, as firmly as possible, this racist decision."

Cultural Genocide

Following the 1948 war, Israel systematically replaced with Hebrew names the Arabic names of most Palestinian villages and towns it had conquered or received under the previous year’s U.N. Partition Agreement. In 1971, then-Prime Minister Golda Meir made it Israeli state policy that the 1948 Green Line denoting the internationally recognized division between Israel and the newly occupied territories of the West Bank, Golan Heights and Gaza be permanently removed from all Israeli maps.

Indeed, such cartographic wiping off Palestine from the map continues to this day. Many Arab towns in Israel, such as the city of Tamara, do not even appear on Israeli maps. Others razed in previous wars have been transformed into evergreen forests, claimed by the Jewish National Fund, and banished from maps and history books to prevent the original owners and their descendants from ever returning.

Israeli Transport Minister Yisrael Katz told the mass-selling Yediot Ahronot newspaper that the road sign decision was a response to the Palestinian refusal to use Hebrew names for some Israeli towns. “On Palestinian maps, Israeli towns are often still identified with the Arabic names used before the 1948 war," he said.

According to Dr. Atef Adwan, Minister of Refugees in Gaza’s de facto Palestinian government, the Israeli decision aims to Judaize the land of Palestine and make it yet another fact on the ground.

“Occupation aims to erase Palestinian history and culture, as well as commitment to the Palestinian land, from the minds of the Palestinian people," he said.

Among the Palestinian cities, towns and villages whose names will be Judaized is the hometown of Jesus, known to Christians worldwide as Nazareth and to Palestinians as Al Nasrah. Henceforth it will be identified on Israeli road signs by its Hebrew name, Natsrat. The ancient Roman port of Caesaria will become Kesariya, and Tiberias, on the Sea of Galilee, Tveria—on the Yam Kineret.

Katz’s decision sparked scorn among Arab-Israeli lawmakers, including Ahmad Tibi, of the United Arab List”“Ta’al party, which holds four seats in Israel’s 120-seat Knesset, or parliament.

“Al Quds remains Al Quds," Dr. Al Tibi, insisted. “Minister Katz is mistaken if he thinks that changing a few words can erase the existence of the Arab people or their belonging to the land.

“Yisrael Katz will come and go—Netanyahu will come and go—but Al Nazirath and Jerusalem will remain forever," Tibi added.

Israeli historian Ilan Pappe, author of the 2006 book The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine (available from the AET Book Club), said of the Israeli move: “It is part of an overall strategy to rob the Palestinians in Israel of their basic human and civil rights....There is little difference between [the Israeli political] ”Left’ and ”Right’ on this. The ”Right’ cares less about public opinion abroad and is more open about its intention to dispossess the Palestinians in Israel. It even believes that more explicit language helps to accelerate the process of dispossession."

Israeli Anti-Semitism

Ironically, the Jewish state will be discriminating not only against its minority Christian and Muslim citizens, but against Jewish Israelis as well—those from Arab countries who often find themselves treated as second-class citizens, relegated to separate schools and at times housing and jobs as well. To be Semitic, after all, is to be of Arabic ancestry and speak one of the five ancient Semitic languages. By eliminating Arabic-language names and replacing them with modern Hebrew, the state of Israel is in essence cleansing the land of its Semitism as well.

Determined to carry out his plan, however, Minister Katz may have inadvertently revealed an ulterior motive: Israel’s desire to annex all of Jerusalem as Jewish only, in defiance of international law. “This government, and certainly this minister," he vowed, “will not allow anyone to turn Jewish Jerusalem into Palestinian Al Quds."

Award-winning journalist Mohammed Omer reports on the Gaza Strip, where he maintains the Web site <www.rafahtoday.org>. He can be reached at <[email protected]>.