Paterson NJ celebrates Palestine Way renaming in honor of community

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

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

“A lot of Palestinians live in Paterson, and this is the day we can celebrate it,” Councilman Alaa “Al” Abdelaziz said.

The city council voted unanimously in April to rename the street to honor the city’s large Palestinian community and their contributions to civic life and business. A lively street festival, organized by the Palestinian American Community Center, was held along Main Street to celebrate the occasion.

Paterson officials including Mayor Andre Sayegh, Paterson Council Chairperson Maritza Davila and Sixth Ward Councilman Al Abdelaziz react after unveiling the renaming of part of the main street to Palestine Way as they stand up in a ceremony, Sunday in Paterson 05/15/22.

Vendors set up stalls selling grilled corn, dresses, bags and more. T-shirts emblazoned with “Palestine Way” were available. Red, white, black and green Palestinian flags were distributed to participants and draped over buildings and tents.

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

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

The event paid tribute to generations of Palestinian families who have established roots in the region, 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 chair, and Paterson Mayor Andre Sayegh.

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

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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 bigger city because the Palestinians call it home.

Chants of “Free Palestine” and “Palestine Way” accompanied the unveiling of the road 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 Disaster” 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 from eight West Bank villages to make way for an Israeli military firing range.

Participants are seen with Palestinian flags during a ceremony to rename part of the main street to Palestine Way, Sunday in Paterson 05/15/22.

Palestinians and Israelis have faced an increase in violence in recent weeks, with Palestinian attackers carrying out deadly attacks in Israeli towns and Israeli forces stepping up raids, shootings and arrests across the West Bank. Palestinians also mourned the May 11 murder of prominent Palestinian American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, who held a vigil in Paterson on Thursday. Akleh was also honored at Sunday’s street fair with a minute’s silence.

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

Despite the ongoing conflicts and losses, the name change and the festival are first and foremost 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, our dream and our aspiration.

Hannan Adely is a diversity journalist covering Arab and Muslim communities for, where she focuses on social issues, politics, prejudice and civil rights. To get unlimited access to the latest news, please subscribe or activate your digital account today.

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Twitter: @adelyreporter

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