Israel has taken a significant step this week toward enhancing the Jewish national character of the country. The Cabinet voted to appoint a ministerial committee to approve a uniform Hebrew naming system – not Arabic, not English – for all Jewish locations in the country.
For instance, though Arabs have taken to calling our Eternal City “Al-Quds,” the name of Israel’s capital will no longer be left to the political-nationalist whims and machinations of various ethnic groupings. Instead, the eternal Holy City must be known forevermore by its biblical, Hebrew, Zionist name: Yerushalayim.
As of now, street signs for Jerusalem say Yerushalayim in Hebrew letters, Jerusalem in English, and Urshalayim-Al-Quds in Arabic. Once the new plan is adopted, all three languages will read “Yerushalayim.”
Not only Jerusalem will be affected. The name Tiberias, for example, will no longer appear on street signs or maps; instead, the city – one of Judaism’s four holy metropolises – will be known only by its Hebrew appellation, Tverya. (The rules state that even if the Hebrew name ends with “h,” as do Tveryah, Ofrah, Kiryat Shmonah and others, the official English spelling will not end with “h.” Go figure )
The changes will affect cities, towns, intersections and historic sites, and will be manifest on street signs, maps, school books, and all official publications.
The new system was initiated by Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz of Likud, who explained, “Decisions regarding the uniform, official names must be made based on Zionism . Names have significance in terms of national awareness and the national narrative. If someone wants to use street signs to turn Jewish Jerusalem into Palestinian Al-Quds, it won’t happen under this government. Just as Arab towns don’t want to give Jewish names – the Palestinian Authority has issued an order to erase all Hebrew signs – Jewish towns need not have Arab names.”
The importance of the move can be gauged by the extent of the Arab opposition to it. Arab MK Ahmed Tibi said, “Minister Katz is mistaken if he thinks that by laundering words he can erase Arab ties to the land . Al-Quds will remain Al-Quds, Yaffo will remain Yaffa, and Shfar’am will stay Shfa-Amar.” (Shfar’am, in the Galilee, is mentioned in the Talmud, hundreds of years before the Muslims came into being and conquered parts of the Holy Land.)
Al-Quds, which is Arabic for “The Holy,” is simply an attempt to erase the city’s Jewish name and rewrite history. This strategy is not the first time the “name game” has been attempted as a way of wresting away Jerusalem from the Jewish people.
The Roman emperor Hadrian rebuilt the ruined city in the 130’s, and gave it a thoroughly Roman-pagan name: Aelia Capitolina, after himself and Jupiter. His goal was to ensure that Jews never again live there – yet within a relatively short time, his descendants and countrymen all but forgot that there had ever been a Roman presence in Jerusalem (the Byzantines took over the city in 324).
Jewish generations, on the other hand, never in history severed their national, religious, and emotional ties with the Holy City. Hadrian would have been mortified to see the more than half-million Jews now living in the city.
Today, another attempt is being made to “capture” the Jews’ holy city by giving it a new name. Ironically, Al-Quds is actually an abbreviation for a previous Arabic name used for Jerusalem, “Bet Al-maKDeS” – referring to none other than the Beit HaMikdash, our Holy Temple. Thus, the name the Arabs use for Jerusalem for the purpose of “Arabizing” it is actually one that perpetuates its Jewishness!
The Arab world is now preparing for the convening of the UN General Assembly this coming September, at which it plans to demand recognition of a PLO state with Jerusalem as its capital. The non-viability of this idea – in terms of security, demographics, municipal government, history, religion and modern-day politics – has been explained at length in our previous articles and elsewhere.
Logic and justice notwithstanding, however, it is likely the world body will not be convinced, and will in fact vote to recognize a Muslim state on the Jewish homeland. Now, therefore, is the time to strengthen our own bonds with Israel and Yerushalayim. What could be easier than to call it by its Jewish name, whether in private conversation, e-mails to friends, acquaintances and Congressmen, blogs, letters to the editor, and wherever else?
When Arab spokesmen use the name Al-Quds, we cringe as we sense their pompousness in claiming a city that was never theirs. How much more so should we be justifiably proud, and earn points on the international PR scene as well, to call the Holy Eternal City by its real name: Yerushalayim.
For more information on how to participate in keeping Jerusalem Jewish, via updates, bus tours of critical parts of Jerusalem, and more, send an e-mail to email@example.com or visit the Keep Jerusalem-Im Eshkachech website at www.keepjerusalem.org.
Chaim Silberstein is president of Keep Jerusalem-Im Eshkachech and the Jerusalem Capital Development Fund. He was formerly a senior adviser to Israel’s minister of tourism. Hillel Fendel is senior editor at Israel National News/Arutz-7 and an author. Both have lived in Jerusalem and now reside in Beit El.
Their column appears every other week.