My apologies to readers for being away for a while. My new article is up at The American Prospect.
Walking along the beachfront street in Akko recently with a social activist from the town’s Arab community, I looked up at a sign and saw I was at the corner of Shlomo Ben-Yosef Street. Then I looked again just to make sure. Really, I’m embarrassed I was surprised. Naming the street after Ben-Yosef showed an entirely predictable blend of bad taste and flagrant educational incompetence.
Akko, on the northern Israeli coast, is an ethnically mixed city: Arab citizens of Israel make up a little more than a quarter of the town’s 53,000 residents. The rest are Jews. Today’s relations between the two communities are just short of explosive, but I’ll leave that story for another time. Akko was entirely Arab until May 1948, when the Haganah — the proto-army of Israel — conquered it. Afterward, those Arabs who stayed in the town lived in the walled Old City, later spreading to nearby neighborhoods. The beachfront thoroughfare, which runs into the Old City, is named after the Haganah. This must be painful for Arab residents, but it follows an old, unwritten principle: To the victors go the street names.
Shlomo Ben-Yosef Street, just outside the walls, is a more egregious insult. In 1938, Ben-Yosef and two comrades from the ultra-nationalist Irgun underground attacked a bus full of Arab civilians on a mountain road, seeking to kill them all. (Historian Avi Shlaim gives details). The attack failed; the British rulers of Palestine captured, tried, and hanged Ben-Yosef, turning him into a martyr of the Zionist right wing. A smaller, nearby street is called Shnei Eliahu, “Two Eliahus.” It commemorates Eliahu Hakim and Eliahu Bet Zouri, two members of the even more extreme Lehi (Stern Gang) underground. In 1944 they assassinated Lord Moyne, the British Minister Resident in Egypt. They, too, died by hanging and became martyrs of the right. The Comprehensive Arab High School of Akko is on the street of the assassins, and you’d take the street of the bus ambusher to get there. I doubt those who picked the names thought of all the possible lessons that their choice might teach. …
Read the rest here, and come back to South Jerusalem to comment.