Erika Soloman
July 8, 2009 - 12:00am

Ilana Sichel held a ladder steady for her Israeli boyfriend Romy Achituv while he slapped a white sticker over the defaced Arabic script on a battered yellow sign in a Jewish neighborhood of Jerusalem.

The sticker, typed out by Sichel in Arabic, says, "Danger of Death," as does the English and Hebrew alongside it.

"It could seem like we're vandalizing," Sichel mused as Achituv stepped away from the electric pole. "Well, I guess technically we are."

Most street and public signs in Israel are written in all three languages. But in many of Jerusalem's neighborhoods, the Arabic writing has been pasted over with Israeli ultranationalist stickers, some demanding an "ethnic transfer" of Arabs out of the holy city.

Achituv, a native of Jerusalem, and Sichel, an American from Maryland, took to the streets two months ago in a grassroots effort to restore Arabic to signs throughout Jerusalem, in what they call a "refacing" campaign.

"We see this as a matter of basic decency," Sichel said. "Blotting out the Arabic is a clear assault of the Arab population of the city."

Asked to comment on the pair's street activism, Stephen Miller, a spokesman for Israel's Jerusalem mayor, Nir Barkat, said that since the beginning of the year the municipality had fixed more than 1,000 defaced signs.

"We're happy to receive requests and any information on signs that need fixing," Miller said.

Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem say vandalization of Hebrew signs in their neighborhoods is rare. Israel captured East Jerusalem in a 1967 war and annexed it in a move that is not recognized internationally.

East Jerusalem residents say they sometimes see Arabic has been scratched out of signs for Jewish settlements, either by Jewish ultranationalists or by Palestinians opposed to the enclaves on occupied land.


American Task Force on Palestine - 1634 Eye St. NW, Suite 725, Washington DC 20006 - Telephone: 202-262-0017