The Language of Jewish Nationalism: Street Signs and Linguistic Landscape in the Old City of Jerusalem
Old City of Jerusalem
linguistic landscape
Jewish-Arab relations
Israeli-Arab conflict
language and conflict

The Old City of Jerusalem is likely the most hotly contested geographical location in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The linguistic landscape in the Old City, including street names and signs, can shed light on power relations and political agendas within the conflict. This article examines the linguistic landscape of the Old City after the Israeli occupation of the West Bank (including East Jerusalem) in 1967. It focuses on five different areas: four quarters (Jewish, Christian, Muslim, and Armenian) and al-Haram al-Sharif/ Temple Mount compound. Based on an examination of several hundred street signs, the authors’ findings indicate a clear dominance of Hebrew in signage throughout the Old City, evident in different linguistic aspects. Two linguistic behaviors were also obvious: firstly, in the Jewish quarter, the linguistic landscape promotes an Israeli nationalistic discourse including physical erasure of the Arabic language and Palestinian existence; secondly, all other areas lack national Palestinian content and aspirations. This indicates the official Israeli view that there is an exclusive Jewish right to national identity while Palestinians must make do with religious identity only. Our analysis of signs in the Old City indicates two Israeli-oriented, complementary features: pro-active Jewish-Israeli nationalization, and an Orientalist, British-inspired, colonial and religious-centered attempt to de-politicize the East.

Author biography: 

Amer Dahamshe is a lecturer in the Hebrew department at the Arab Academic College in Haifa and a research fellow at the University of Haifa. His research focuses on the connection between place and identity in Palestinian and in Israeli place names, local legends, Hebrew literature, and in the presentation of languages in the linguistic landscape of roads in Israel. He thanks the Harry S. Truman Research Institute for the Advancement of Peace where he conducted research on Arabic and Hebrew road signs in Palestinian villages in Israel.

Yonatan Mendel is a senior lecturer in the Department of Middle East Studies at Ben- Gurion University of the Negev. His main research interests are the position, status, and teaching of Arabic in Israel; Jewish–Arab relations as reflected in language and culture; and the sociology, politics, and practice of translating from Arabic into Hebrew. He wishes to thank the Academy of the Arabic Language in Israel for supporting his research on the Arabic language and Jewish society in Israel.