Israel’s Interior Ministry is stalling the process of naming the streets of Umm al-Fahem, one of the largest Palestinian Arab cities in Israel with a population of 60,000 residents. Hadash Knesset Member Yousef Jabareen (Joint List) and Adalah – The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel – sent a letter to Interior Ministry Aryeh Deri and Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit demanding that they give an immediate green light to the list of 301 proposed street names selected by the Umm al-Fahem municipality.
The Interior Ministry has “approved” 241 of the names but the remainder are still under consideration by the ministry. The streets still pending Interior Ministry approval would bear the names of leading Palestinian leaders and cultural figures such as poet Mahmoud Darwish, former Palestinian Authority Chairman and Nobel Prize winner Yasser Arafat, and past mayors of Umm al-Fahem.
Adalah Attorney Sawsan Zaher clarified that, under Israeli law, only a city’s municipal government has the authority to choose street names and that the Interior Ministry has no legal authority to interfere in the process. “The law which obliges municipalities to name streets, lanes, and alleys stipulates that it must notify the Interior Ministry of the names it has selected. Beyond this obligation of notification, the law does not authorize the Interior Ministry to either approve or reject municipal decisions about the names to be assigned to its streets.” Attorney Zaher authored the letter sent by MK Jabareen and Adalah, and the latter, an NGO, further argued there are no legal barriers to the commemoration of the particular individuals that the Umm al-Fahem Municipality has chosen to honor with street names.
MK Jabareen, a resident of the city, said that, “The right to a residential address is a citizen’s basic right and it is inconceivable that in the 21st century in a city of 60,000 residents such as Umm el-Fahem, there are no street names or house numbers. The naming of streets is not strictly a technical matter but rather allows the commemoration of cultural identity and a national narrative. The Interior Ministry’s red tape is part of the ongoing denial of our unique identity as a national homeland minority.”
Adalah and MK Jabareen stressed in their letter that the Interior Ministry’s delays are causing harm to Umm al-Fahem residents: “Official documents sent to city residents are either not arriving, or are delayed to such a degree that they have expired or are otherwise no longer relevant when finally received. There have been a number of cases in which official documents from various government offices – including Interior Ministry identity cards, and driver or vehicle licenses from the Transportation Ministry – have not reached those to whom they are addressed. Similarly there have been cases in which residents have not received new passports issued by the Interior Ministry in time, or did not receive them at all, and as a result were forced to forgo vacations for which they had already paid.”