By Miri -
As a result of its turbulent history, of numerous conquests, occupations, and partitions administered by different powers, the official name of our region has been constantly changing. Similarly, its borders were and continue to be redrawn as a consequence of the struggles between different powers for control over the region as a whole. At times the land was internally divided, at others, the entire region became part of a larger political unit, but hardly ever was it under the uniform control of its residents, who would thus be in the position to give it a name. The case of this region thus shows that place-names are by no means persistent phenomena, that, once applied, continue in use, but that they are rather subject to change.
Lewis Carroll, the author of Alice in Wonderland, gives us the following answer:
"When I use a word," Humpty Dumpty said, in a rather scornful tone, "it means just what I choose it to mean - neither more nor less"
"The question is," said Alice, "whether you can make words mean so many different things."
"The question is," said Humpty Dumpty, "which is to be master - that's all"
Humpty Dumpty/Carroll thus tells us that speech is not a neutral act, and as such, naming a place is also always an assertion of power.
According to Cohen and Kliot place-names "represent an expression of the manipulation of political landscape to achieve desired ideological objectives", a notion that is not only true for this region, but for the world as a whole. Think for instance about the process of renaming cities such as Leningrad back to St. Petersburg after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, a move that clearly signified a break with the communist past.
Place-names are symbols and part of the process of attaching certain meaning to one's surrounding. Within the context of nation states, place-names constitute important nationalist symbols, just like flags and anthems. As opposed to most parts in Europe, where states, such as the United Kingdom and France have already achieved a certain level of maturity, the relatively young State of Israel with its ongoing conflicts with the surrounding countries, as well as the formally non-existing Palestinian state are still under pressure to invent and reproduce nationalist symbols to assert their nationhood and often enter into a competition over those same symbols.
In the aftermath of the formation of the Israeli state in 1948, only 73 out of 889 place-names retained their Arab origin (not to mention those places that were completely erased during and after the War of Independence in 1948), all other towns and settlements, together with streets, buildings and parks got Hebrew names. The newly created Palestinian refugees in turn, started a similar process in exile by organising and naming refugee camps after pre-1948 Palestinian villages. According to Peteet, those villages were thus "relocated, newly landscaped and socially reconfigured, while their original geographic spaces were renamed and occupied by foreigners".
|West Bank road signs, where the Arabic has been erased|
|Reinscribing the Arabic on a vandalised street sign|
|Necklace showing the map of Israel|
|Necklace showing the map of Palestine|
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