One of the largest Palestinian American communities in the U.S. will see its heritage memorialized on a street sign after the Paterson City Council voted unanimously to rename a five-block stretch of Main Street to Palestine Way.
South Paterson has been home to a large and thriving Palestinian community for decades and council members said the street renaming would honor their contributions to the city in areas including civic life, business and health care.
“The countless investments that Palestinians have given this city, you see it all around, you see the nice buildings going up in this area. It’s because Palestinian Americans have faith in this city,” said Alaa “Al” Abdelaziz, the first Palestinian American council member, who sponsored the resolution.
Abdelaziz’s parents are from Turmus Ayya, a Palestinian town located in the Ramallah province, where many local residents and business owners have roots earning the South Paterson area the nickname “Little Ramallah.” Abdelaziz’s father left 45 years ago, first to Puerto Rico, then to New Jersey, he said.
For many businesses, Palestinian roots are right in the name, including Nablus Sweets, Ramallah Meat Market, Jerusalem Pharmacy and Palestine Hair Salon. Flags and artwork with the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem can be found in many stores.
Soon, visitors will see a sign for Palestine Way on a stretch of Main Street between Gould and Buffalo avenues, although a date for the ceremony has not yet been determined.
Raina Mustafa, executive director of the Palestinian American Community Center, which advocated for the renaming, said the measure was a victory for people who have built homes and a communal presence that helped the area grow.
“This is a victory that wouldn’t have happened without the multiple generations who have poured their hearts and souls into calling Paterson home,” she said.
The center, located in Clifton near the Paterson border, had designed shirts with an image of a Palestine Way street sign that some supporters wore to the meeting Tuesday.
The meeting drew nearly 50 supporters in the council chambers who held flags and cheered when council members wearing kufiyahs, traditional Palestinian black and white checkered scarfs, cast their votes.
Councilwoman Ruby Cotton said the Palestinian community had welcomed people of different backgrounds and provided meals for senior citizens in her ward during the COVID pandemic. “Even though we are from different nationalities, we are still one,” she said.
Others recognized the community for investing in business and property in the South Paterson district.
“You take a lot of pride in your areas,” said Councilman Flavio Rivera. “I also believe the city should reflect residents that live in it. This is a great sign that this council believes the same and we are going to continue to try and be inclusive of everyone.”
Thousands of Palestinians live in North Jersey, including Clifton, Wayne and Paterson with many having fled war, displacement and economic hardship. South Paterson is also home to Syrian, Turkish and Jordanian businesses and residents.
The City Council has renamed portions of local streets for other communities in the past, including Jamaicans and Colombians. Already, the Palestine Way designation has ricocheted across social media with most commenters expressing pride in the designation.
In 2013, Paterson was the first municipality in New Jersey to raise the Palestinian flag at its municipal building, in a tradition that had been done for other ethnic communities to mark their contributions. Other cities followed suit, including Clifton, North Bergen and Jersey City, while Philadelphia raised the flag for the first time last year.