Is it possible to name a street in Israel after Oum Kalthoum? The mayor of Haifa, the country’s third largest city, has given the go-ahead, provoking an outcry from those who consider the legend of Arabic song as an “enemy” of the Jewish state.
Nicknamed “the Star of the East”, the Egyptian singer occupied the stage from the 1920s to the 1970s and her voice still resounds today in the four corners of the Arab world, but also in Israel.
Her fans include Israeli Arabs, descendants of the Palestinians who remained on their land when Israel was created in 1948 and who account for 20% of the Israeli population.
In Haifa, the big city in the north of the country, this community represents 10% of the 300,000 inhabitants.
It is to underline the mixed nature of the city, “which represents a model of coexistence between Jews and Arabs”, that the town hall headed by the Jewish edile Einat Kalisch-Rotem decided in mid-July to rename a street by the name of Oum Kalthoum.
The diva, who appeared on stage in Haifa in the 1930s, is “one of the greatest singers of Arab music,” the municipality said, which has yet to designate the street to be renamed.
For Raja Zaatreh, city councillor, the fact that his city is honouring this artist is a way of recognizing the local “presence and roots” of the Arab Israeli community, which feels it is regularly subjected to social discrimination.
But the idea of having a “Oum Kalthoum Street” in Haifa, even in an Arab neighbourhood, is not to everyone’s liking.
The local newspaper “Kol Po” (“Everything here” in Hebrew) published a large black and white picture of the singer on its front page, crossed out with the words “Now I have a gun, take me to Palestine with you”, taken from one of her songs dedicated to the Palestinian cause.