Page last updated at 14:07 GMT, Monday, 13 July 2009 15:07 UK

Row over 'standard' Hebrew signs

Israeli trilingual road sign for Nazareth (Photo: Jason Nathan/Flickr)
Road signs can be tri-lingual, reflecting each language's traditional names

Israeli transport chiefs have unveiled a plan to replace traditional Arabic and English place names on road signs, keeping only their Hebrew versions.

It means biblical locations such as Nazareth and Caesarea will come to be identified as Natsrat and Kesriya.

The Transport Ministry planners said a lack of uniform spelling on road signs caused confusion for drivers.

Israeli Arabs said it is an attempt to erase the Arabic language and heritage which predates the modern Israel.

"[Transport Minister Yisrael] Katz is mistaken if he thinks that changing a few words can erase the existence of the Arab people," said Arab MP Ahmed Tibi.

Currently most Israeli road signs are written in Hebrew, Arabic and English, using the traditional names in each language.

Jerusalem is identified as "Yerushalaim" in Hebrew, "Jerusalem" in English, and "al-Quds" in Arabic (along with "Yerushalaim" written in Arabic script).

Under the new policy the Holy City will only be identified as Yerushalaim in all three languages.

Jaffa, near Tel Aviv, which still has a sizeable community of Arabs who trace their ancestry to pre-1948 Palestine, will in future be written as Hebraised Yafo.

Not allowed

"The lack of uniform spelling on signs has been a problem for those speaking foreign languages, citizens and tourists alike," said Yeshaayahu Ronen, of the Transportation Planning Department.

Some Palestinian maps still refer to the Israeli cities by their pre-1948 names. I will not allow that on our signs.
Transport Minister Yisrael Katz

However, speaking to the Ynet news website, Transport Minister Yisrael Katz hinted that there might indeed be an underlying political motive for the plan.

"Some Palestinian maps still refer to the Israeli cities by their pre-1948 names" [before Israel was founded], said Mr Katz.

"I will not allow that on our signs. This government, and certainly this minister, will not allow anyone to turn Jewish Jerusalem to Palestinian al-Quds."

He said areas in the occupied West Bank where Israel exercises civil control would keep their Arabic road signs, so Nablus would not become the Hebrew Shechem.

A right-wing coalition came to power in April including ultra-nationalist Yisrael Beitenu party, which has demanded Israel's Arab minority demonstrate greater loyalty to the Jewish state.

Israel's one million Arab citizens make up about one-fifth of the population and they frequently complain of being marginalised and discriminated against by the Jewish-majority state.

The Transport Ministry said changes would be gradual, and no existing sign would be changed unless it needs replacing due to wear.

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