In Israel, Controversial Memorials Are Everywhere but Not One Has Been Toppled

When historian Johnny Mansour, who specializes in the history of the Palestinian people, is asked for his address, he goes silent for a moment, looks down and mutters: “Yair Stern Street.”

Even after more than two decades on this street in Haifa, he’s loath to look at the entrance to his house and see the sign commemorating the commander of the Lehi – a pre-state underground, as the right calls it, or a terrorist group, as Mansour sees it.

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A few years ago, he asked city hall whether there was a chance to change the name of the street, where most of the residents are Arab Israelis.

In recent weeks, Mansour has seen how in the United States and Europe, the people protesting racism and discrimination have toppled statues of historical figures with stains in their past. The residents of Yair Stern Street, he admits, are too busy with their day-to-day problems to take to the streets just because of the armed poet.  

Yes, armed poet; Stern also wrote dozens of poems and once declared: “From our ranks, only death will release us.” In 1942, he was captured by British police officers, who shot him dead.  

A 10-minute drive from Mansour’s home one can find Zionism Boulevard and November 2 Street, named after the date of the 1917 Balfour Declaration that backed “a national home for the Jewish people” in the Holy Land.

Amer Dahamshe is a lecturer at Hebrew Literature and the author of the 2017 book “Local Habitation and a Name: A Literary and Cultural Reading of the Arabic Geographical Names of the Land.”