Culture, Israel, Justice, Politics

Re-Facing Jerusalem

Josh Berer was raised in Victoria BC, but since 2001 hasn’t spent more than a year in one place. He is currently finishing a year in Israel spent working with the Bedouin community in the Unrecognized Villages. Edited and reposted with permission, all 29 before/after photos viewable at his blog.
In Jerusalem, and in fact all over Israel, racist scumbags spraypaint out the Arabic on street signs, or cover it over with political stickers. The message is clear: this is not your country, we don’t even want to see a trace of your heritage on our streets.
Friends of mine in Jerusalem, Ilana and Romy, started an amazing project: Re-Facing Jerusalem. They made a list of streets around Jerusalem that had been defaced, and set about putting the Arabic back. I was lucky enough to have a small role in this project over the past weekend.
I wrote 25 street signs out in Arabic calligraphy, and on Thursday and Saturday nights we drove around and stuck them back up. None of us are Arab or Muslim, but we all recognize the importance of shared existence, and are committed to the principle and reality of Jerusalem as a shared city.

General Pierre Koenig, Emek Refaim

ben zakai st
Raban Yochanan Ben Zakai, same corner as above.

Marcus St, Rehavia.

The response of the general public was interesting. While Romy and Ilana said that others engaged them in conversation during other outings in the past, of the 25 signs we re-faced only about 5 people spoke to us while we were doing it. Many people were around us as we put the signs up, but few of them said anything. One was a block from the intersection of King George and Ben Yehuda, arguably the busiest intersection of the city, and the streets were packed as we walked through the crowd with a ladder and climbed up to the sign. No one said a word. Another was across the street from the Jerusalem Theater in Rehavia, and a show had just let out when we set up the ladder, and a steady stream of middle-aged Ashkenazi Israelis walked past as we were refacing Rechov Marcus, and none said a thing to us. And it’s not as though we were a threatening group of punks spraying graffiti; we’re three dorky artist-types.

My favorite comment from the public was while putting up this sign. Two twenty-something guys with goatees and long hair walked past while Romy was up on the ladder sticking the sign on. One asked what we were doing, and I explained the project, saying that we had re-written the name of the street in Arabic because the original had been vandalized. The other said, “Yeah, anashim zevel do that.” That translates literally as ‘garbage people,’ and is my new favorite phrase.

Jabotinsky St, Rehavia

Ilana and Romy had replaced this sign before, and the replacement got ripped down a few days later. You can see the remnants of the original, and it currently looks like a battleground.

King George, center of town.

Old City Highway Sign, Rehavia
While putting up this sign (a block down the street from the Prime Minister’s house) a security guard carrying a massive automatic rifle came running at us. He asked the rhetorical “do you have permission to do that?” and then demanded our IDs. Ilana was in the car and I left mine at home on purpose, so Romy (who is Israeli, and thus did all the talking) gave the guard his ID, who then radioed back to base explaining that he had just found some miscreants. He looked at the Arabic phrases we had just stuck up, and said, “What is written there?” and Romy replied, “The Old City, in Arabic.” “What was there before?” “Vandalism obscuring the words.” And at this point there was this momentary pause when, I think, he realized he was talking to the good guys, as Ilana put it. But he couldn’t back down from his bully demeanor, so he said sarcastically to Romy, “Oh, so you’re the hero!” to which Romy politely declined. A few words were exchanged and then he handed Romy back his ID and then gave us a few stern sentences about how no one should take the law into his own hands.

11 thoughts on “Re-Facing Jerusalem

  1. Beautiful!
    I saw this “anshei zevel”-perpetrated vandalism the last time I was in Israel, during the summer of 2006.
    Sadly, even though it disturbed me, I never thought to respond in the simple and elegant way you folks did.
    Nice job & yishar koach!

  2. This is a great idea. Kol Hakavod!
    One Hebrew question – shouldn’t it be “anshei zevel”, not “anashim zevel”?

  3. Jason, its funny. When I was typing this up I totally had the same thought, but I distinctly remembered him saying anashim, not anashey. anyway.

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