So It Shall Be Written

July 14, 2009 at 07:27 2 comments

The Transportation Ministry has decided to standardize the road signs in Israel. The names of some 2,000 places will now be spelled in a uniform way, transliterated from Hebrew.

This is a badly needed reform that’s long overdue. If anyone doubts that, they should try to drive to Petach Tikva, following the signs in the Latin alphabet. Then they’ll notice that they’re in fact on their way to a city called anything from Petakh Tikwa to Petah Tiqvah. Anyone driving to Caesarea will have a similar experience, passing signs directing traffic to Caesarea, Qesaria and Ceysariyyah.

Worst off are probably those non-Hebrew speakers who — frantically looking for the airport — pass the sign to NATBAG. Now, NATBAG is the pronunciation of the Hebrew acronym for Nemal Teufah Ben Gurion, that is Ben Gurion Airport. But if you don’t speak Hebrew it’s not self-evident that you’ll figure that one out as you drive down the highway in 150 km/h trying to make it to your flight.

In other words, this reform should be good news, unanimously welcomed by all, right?


According to reports in the media, some MKs have instead chosen to see this as a racist plot of the new rightwing government, aimed at erasing the traces of Arab settlement in the land between the river and the sea. Inconveniently enough for those conspiracy theorists, this plan of standardization was launched already a year ago — long before Netanyahu and his cronies took office.

Nonetheless, they do have a point, since the texts with Arab and Latin characters will essentially be transliterations of the Hebrew names, ignoring the instances where there already is an established version of the place name in Arabic or English. As a consequence, Acre will be Ako, Tiberias Tveriya and Jerusalem will be Yerushalayim on the new signs.

However, those who see this reform as spelling the end to non-Hebrew life in Israel can at least take some comfort in the knowledge that no rapid changes are to be expected. No signs are actually going to be replaced before they fall down, are stolen or become illegible from wear and tear (as opposed to incongruent and illogical orthography).


Entry filed under: Life.

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2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Marissa  |  July 14, 2009 at 11:16

    I would like some clarification… When one “Jerusalem” sign gets worn out- will all “Jerusalem” signs be replaced? Because if not then there is still the problem exists… Although I think this is must and have been waiting for this change for who knows how long, its a bit ridiculous to write “Yerushalayim” on signs- what Christian tourist from Kansas knows what that means? Also is my neighborhood going to be called the “Moshava Hagermanit” or the German Colony (in fact I noticed that signs in Haifa say German Colony whereas in Jerusalem they say Moshava Hagermanit). Also, are all signs going to say “NATBAG” or will they say Ben Gurion Airport? Please update me

  • 2. Mikael Tossavainen  |  July 14, 2009 at 11:18

    That’s a good point. I imagine that we’ll experience quite a few years of increased confusion, until all the signs leading to Jerusalem will eventually read Yerushalayim.

    Not to mention the NATBAG thing…


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