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In east Jerusalem, streets will soon have names

17 november 2011, 13:58
0
A group of Palestinian students walk past a newly named street in east Jerusalem. ©AFP
A group of Palestinian students walk past a newly named street in east Jerusalem. ©AFP
Many east Jerusalem residents have for decades lived on anonymous streets where home delivery is almost impossible -- but that is about to change thanks to a long-awaited plan to name the roads, AFP reports.

The programme should end years of confusion and, crucially, give Palestinians in the annexed eastern sector access to services including home mail delivery, a tall order in the absence of street names or house numbers.

"We have been demanding that our streets be named for years," said Hossam Watad, head of the community centre in Beit Hanina neighbourhood.

"If you need an ambulance or any emergency service, you should be able to tell them exactly where you live."

For residents living in homes without numbers and streets without names, jobs as simple as calling a plumber was a matter of finding local landmarks to direct the technician.

And getting post delivered to a home address was simply impossible, with residents relying on post boxes at the nearest post office to receive letters and bills, which often ended up being paid late because of the difficulties.

Palestinian residents of east Jerusalem, which Israel captured in the 1967 Six-Day War and later annexed in a move never recognised by the international community, often complain of discrimination by the municipality.

Though they are not Israeli citizens, they pay the same municipal taxes as the city's Jewish residents.

But they say the city provides fewer services in Arab neighbourhoods, makes it almost impossible to build, and only agreed to allow street names and house numbers after years of requests.

"This is happening after years of petitioning the municipality, the post office, and the ministry of communications," Watad told AFP .

Residents have even petitioned Israel's high court on the issue of mail delivery, with the court accepting a communication ministry pledge to work with the municipality and postal authority to find a solution.

The Jerusalem municipality has promised that all the unnamed streets in the eastern part of the city will be given names by the end of 2012, with house numbers to follow.

-- Avoid provocative names --

"Residents can give us names and then a committee will examine them, then another committee headed by a Supreme Court judge will examine them," a municipality official said on condition of anonymity.

"It is the same process in west Jerusalem and all of Israel," he added.

He said the programme was part of a push by Mayor Nir Barkat to "improve a lot of issues in east Jerusalem," though he did not say why it had taken the municipality so long to implement the project.

"Residents will be able to get mail correctly and call service people -- it will help improve all aspects of life," he said.

Jerusalem city councillor Meir Margalit, who belongs to the left-wing Meretz party, was the main person pushing the programme from inside the municipality.

"We will start with Beit Hanina and Shuafat," he told AFP , referring to neighbourhoods in the northeast of the city.

"We asked communities in Sur Baher and Jabal al-Mukabber (southeast) to suggest their names and they sent us a list."

Margalit said the municipality had asked residents to avoid "provocative names," though he said he had no personal objection to any name which locals might choose.

But the municipal source said none of the names which had been submitted were controversial.

Watad said he had worked with local residents to come up with names. "We presented a list of Arab names for streets in Shuafat and Beit Hanina and we chose acceptable names," he said.

Among the street names suggested were those of Lebanese poet Khalil Gibran and Egyptian writer Taha Hussein, as well as simpler choices such as "Al-Nakheel," meaning palm tree, and "Al-Sadaqa," Arabic for friendship.

Alaa Bassem, a 24-year-old resident of Beit Hanina, said he was pleased the project was finally under way, but questioned why it had taken so long.

"There isn't any excuse for it. Jerusalem is relatively small, and this project should have been done many years ago," he said.

"It just proves that the Palestinian residents of Jerusalem are on the bottom rung of the ladder in the minds of the municipality."

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