Article originally appeared on Paterson Press.

BY Hannan Adely and Rebecca King

May 15, 2022


PATERSON — The South Paterson neighborhood is home to stores, restaurants and offices with Palestinian flags and images of Jerusalem hanging on walls. Everywhere, signs of the Palestinian homeland are emblazoned on property names, from Jerusalem Pharmacy to Nablus Sweets to Palestine Hair Salon.

Now, visitors to the area will also find street signs. On Sunday, city officials celebrated the renaming of a five-block section of Main Street, from Gould Avenue to Buffalo Avenue, to Palestine Way.

“Many Palestinians call Paterson home, and this is the day we get to celebrate it,” said Councilman Alaa “Al” Abdelaziz.

The City Council voted unanimously in April for the street renaming to honor the city’s large Palestinian community and its contributions to civic life and business. A bustling street festival, organized by the Palestinian American Community Center, was held along Main Street to celebrate the occasion.

Vendors set up booths selling roasted corn, dresses, bags and more. T-shirts emblazoned with “Palestine Way” were available. Red, white, black and green Palestinian flags were passed out to attendees and draped from buildings and tents.

“I wish we had something like this every year,” said Lina Ramadan, who was visiting from Jordan and hadn’t been to Paterson in 22 years. She used to live in Union City.

“I feel like I’m in my country,” she said. “Everyone is so happy. It’s very special.”

The event paid homage to generations of Palestinian families who have established roots in the area, organizers said. The City Council has renamed portions of local streets for other groups in the past, including Jamaicans and Colombians.

Among those invited to speak at the celebration were Maritza Davila, the council president, and Paterson Mayor Andre Sayegh.

“Palestinians are proud Americans,” said Sayegh. “Palestinians are productive Americans. Palestinians are making countless contributions to our communities every day in the United States of America.”

Abdelaziz took the stage to raucous applause, saying, “If you’re Palestinian, chances are, you started in South Paterson. So, Palestine Way is long overdue … Paterson is a greater city because Palestinians call it home.”

Chants of “Free Palestine” and “Palestine Way” accompanied the unveiling of the street sign.

Community members say the signs display pride but also send a message of existence and defiance. In their ancestral homeland, Israel restricts the public display of Palestinian flags.

For Palestinians, May 15 also marks Nakba Day, an annual “Day of Catastrophe” commemorating the forced displacement of 750,000 Palestinians from their homes with the establishment of Israel in 1948.

Palestinians say the displacement continues today. Earlier this month, Israel’s top court approved the eviction of more than 1,000 Palestinians in eight West Bank villages to make room for an Israeli military firing range.

Palestinians and Israelis have faced an increase in violence in recent weeks, with Palestinian assailants carrying out fatal attacks in Israeli cities and Israeli forces stepping up raids, shootings and arrests across the West Bank. Palestinians also mourned the May 11 killing of renowned Palestinian American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, holding a vigil in Paterson on Thursday. Akleh was also honored at Sunday’s street fair with a moment of silence.

Meanwhile, also on Sunday, the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey held a ceremony where the Israeli flag was raised next to the American flag outside City Hall in Clifton. The annual event honors Israel’s Independence Day and shows support for Jewish control over the land.

Despite ongoing conflict and loss, the renaming and the festival are, above all, a celebration of the community members who live and invest in Paterson, said Rania Mustafa, executive director of the Palestinian center. On the new Palestine Way, Mustafa said, “The idea is that we are leading the way to a free Palestine, and that is our hope, dream and aspiration.”