Adalah Demands Cancellation of Transport Minister's Decision to Hebraicize the Road Signs and Exclude the Arabic Names of Towns and Villages in Israel

On 15 July 2009, Adalah sent an urgent letter to the Attorney General, Menachem Mazuz, demanding the cancellation of the Transport Minister's new decision to Hebraicize all the road signs in Israel. As reported in the media, the Transport Minister's decision entails the replacement of all the road signs in the state with new signs that show the Hebrew names of places in Arabic letters, regardless of the common and historical Arabic name of the place. For example, "Jerusalem" would become "Yerushalaim" in Hebrew, English and Arabic, and "Al-Quds" (the name for Jerusalem in Arabic) would cease to exist on the road signs.

In the letter , Adalah Attorney Haneen Naamnih argued that the implementation of this decision would affect violate the rights of Arab citizens in Israel to dignity and equality, as well as their cultural rights and freedom of expression rights including the right to articulate and use their mother tongue and to develop it.

Attorney Naamnih stressed that the decision to Hebraicize the road signs is contrary to an Israeli Supreme Court judgment delivered in 2002 on a petition submitted by Adalah and the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI), which obliges the municipalities in the mixed cities to add Arabic to the traffic and warning signs as well as other informational signs in areas under their jurisdiction. In that decision, the former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Aharon Barak, ruled that the right to equality and personal freedom to use one's mother tongue, the special status of the Arabic language in the state as the language of a large national minority, and the fact that it is closely linked to the historical, religious and cultural characteristics of the Arab minority in Israel, necessitates the addition of the Arabic language to the street signs in the mixed cities. (See H.C. 4112/99, Adalah, et. al. v. The Municipalities of Tel Aviv-Jaffa, et. al. (decision delivered 25 July 2002))

Further, Adalah added that for the Palestinian Arab citizens of Israel, the name of the town is not a formality, but an integral part of the Arabic language and the reality posed by this language. Attorney Naamnih emphasized Arabic is an official language in the state and the mother tongue of the national minority, and thus, the state has a duty to maintain and develop this language and use it in a way that will ensure its preservation in all areas and levels.

In fact in 2007 the Knesset enacted a law which establishes an Arabic Language Academy; in the interpretative notes to the law, the legislator noted the importance of the Arabic language as an official language and allocated an annual budget of NIS 5.3 million to this institution.

Since beginning its work last year, the Arabic Language Academy has held meetings with Ma'atz (National Road Company) and the Hebrew Language Academy with regard to amending the way in which the names of towns and villages are written on the road signs in Arabic. The parties agreed on an initial work program, according to which the names of the Arab villages and towns will be written in Arabic consistent with their common name among the people of these towns.