The Israeli Interior Ministry has rejected a request by Palestinian citizens of Israel based in Eilabun, close to the Lebanese border, to rename their streets "Mahmoud Darwish", "Hashivah" (The Return) and "Gamal Abdel Nasser".
Despite the request submitted by the local government of the eastern Galilee town being approved by a naming committee in the Interior Ministry, which is a process required by Israeli law, the request was still denied without explanation, reported Haaretz.
"What are the reservations about?" Mayor Samir Abu Zayed asked. "Mahmoud Darwish is an Arab poet whose poems are taught in some schools with the approval of the Educating Ministry. It's like in Jewish schools they learn poems identified with Jewish culture and have streets named after Jewish poets."
Ikram Sror, the director general of the local council, told Haaretz that the name "Hashivah" was rejected due to the lack of understanding of the local context, adding that it is not a call for the "right of return" of Palestinian refugees to the homes they were expelled from to make way for the creation of the state of Israel in 1948.
"This word is tied to the unique history of Eilabun. In October 1948, most of the residents of the village were exiled to Lebanon and they were returned to it after a few months with the agreement of the Israeli government at the time," said Sror.
However, the Interior Ministry claims the names are undergoing "further examination" and that it has not rejected them.
Abu Zayed complained that the Arab town's freedom of expression and democratic rights had been violated. "It is my right, in my community, to give the streets names that are appropriate for our culture and history and this is a decision that stems from prejudice," he said.
In response, the Interior Ministry said: "These names, as well as many other names from various communities, are passed on for further examination as part of the regular work of the Interior Ministry. We regret that such claims have been directed at the professional committee, and we can only note that the applicant is being misleading in claiming that the Interior Ministry has allegedly rejected the names without any explanation."