Squeezing Jaffa

First came this story, about how Israel’s UK tourist office approved a poster advertising tourism to Israel that included this map, which shows Gaza, the West Bank and the Golan Heights as integral parts of Israel. Even in the most Israel-friendly reading, few could dispute the fact that there is at least some, well, uncertainty both inside and outside Israel about the political status of these three areas. Who, then, is the Israel government trying to kid? You and me, it seems.

Then came this story about Israeli transport officials planning to impose Hebrew place names on locations throughout Israel. Tourists – and, apparently, locals – are “confused” by the lack of standardised spellings, so in future Nazareth will be signposted in English and Arabic as Natsrat, using the transliteration of its Hebrew name. Similarly Caesarea will be shown as Kesariya, Acre as Akko, Jaffa as Yafo.

If the advert map was (in the most generous interpretation) merely cackhanded mismanagement of spin, it’s hard to see this as anything other than part of an attempt to erase official recognition of any cultures other than Israeli Hebrew culture in these towns and cities.

Do they imagine that they are doing tourists a service by replacing Nazareth with Natsrat? Are they expecting the Arabic-speaking residents of Acre to suddenly start calling their own city Akko?

If the Swiss government in Bern were to issue a decree forbidding the mention of “Genève” and requiring Geneva to be signposted using only the German name Genf, it would (rightly) be interpreted as an attempt to deny the reality of that city’s francophone culture.

Who, then, are the Israeli government trying to kid by, in effect, trying to squeeze the very word Jaffa out of existence? Nobody but themselves, it seems.


  1. Richard Trillo

    Roadsigns of a morally bankrupt zionist culture, I’d say. They can always put new dual-spelling ones up in the right places when it’s all resolved. . . (one day).

    What nobody can do is restore the physical presence of villages wiped from the landscape.

  2. Matthew Teller

    Thanks for your opinion, Richard. Myself, I’m always wary when Zionism is used so glibly as a term of abuse: it reminds me of pointless Cold War mudslinging about “morally bankrupt communism” or “morally bankrupt capitalism”. I don’t think the merits or demerits of any particular ideology are the point. Political practice is at fault.

    Travellers to Israel (let alone Palestine) need to be aware that there are two realities overlaying each other. Maps, roadsigns, brochures, the mass media speak of one reality. The other remains largely invisible and undocumented, and is best accessed through personal interaction – but remains no less authentic an expression of the diversity of culture and opinion within the country.

    Then again, isn’t that true everywhere?

  3. Fred Schlomka

    ‘True everywhere’ – I wonder. However most Democracies that were once colonies now make an effort today to at least acknowledge, if not celebrate, the indigenous cultures that were supplanted by immigrants. However here in Israel and Palestine we are still in the middle of our colonizing process, out of sync with the civilized world.

    I do agree with Richard’s characterization of Zionism as ‘morally bankrupt’. The term defines a political ideology that embodies in the laws, regulations, and government policies of the state, that one ethno/religious group should control the mechanisms of government.

    Political practice stands on a foundation, and if that base is morally flawed, so will the resulting governing practices. This was true of Apartheid, and is no less true of Zionism.

  4. Matthew Teller

    Thanks so much for dropping by, Fred – much appreciated. Very good to hear your thoughts.

    Your “civilized world” comment is particularly interesting: I’m not sure where that place is! With the rise of fascists in Britain, with the way Italy treats its ethnic minorities, with the racial policies of certain US states, I’m not sure where ‘civilization’ starts and ends…

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