LISA MULLINS: In Israel even street signs can be politically loaded. Road signs in Israel are tri-lingual ï¿½ in Hebrew, English, and Arabic. But the country's new transportation minister wants to remove the Arabic and English names and replace them with Hebrew transliterations. Others have tried their hand at altering the sings but as Daniel Estrin reports from Jerusalem one couple has been quietly trying to restore them.
DANIEL ESTRIN: About six months ago Ilana Sichel from the DC area and her Israeli boyfriend, Romy Achituv noticed something strange in their neighborhood. Many of the street signs had been vandalized.
ILANA SICHEL: This sign. See this ï¿½ the slow sign? That's been defaced in a couple areas.
ESTRIN: You could still see the English and Hebrew names but the Arabic translations were covered with graffiti.
SICHEL: And so it particularly stood out to us because it was such a blatant assault. There wasn't even an ulterior motive. I think that the statement is that Arabs have no place in the city.
ESTRIN: Sichel and Achituv suspect Jewish ultra-nationalists were responsible for defacing the Arabic so they reported the vandalism to the Jerusalem municipality hotline.
ROMY ACHITUV: The woman was very polite and very patient and wanted to knowï¿½ she wrote down a long list of all the places.
ESTRIN: But nothing happened. So Sichel and Achituv have taken matters into their own hands. They print out their own Arabic translations and get to work. It's a quick procedure, pull out the ladder, spray adhesive, and slap their sticker onto the sign, right over the graffiti that covered up the original Arabic. Some of their stickers have been torn down repeatedly so they keep going back and putting up new ones.
SICHEL: You know when people roll by they never know what you're doing. We don't know if you're just hooligans who are out vandalizing.
ESTRIN: You're a kind of hooligan aren't you?
ACHITUV: maybe technically we're tampering with public property but we're not touching any element of the sign that has not been tampered with before.
SICHEL: And we're just putting it back to its original state.
ESTRIN: Which is why Sichel prefers calling themselves aï¿½
SICHEL: Self-elected, community maintenance crew.
ESTRIN: On a few outings police cars have passed by but never stopped them. On this day a driver pulls over to take some pictures of the crew in action. He says he likes their initiative but offers some perspective.
DRIVER: If you see a hole in the road you are not coming and fix it. A hole in the road it's more danger.
SICHEL: That's true.
ESTRIN: Still Sichel says the initiative does serve a practical purpose for Arab residents navigating their way around the city who only speak Arabic.
SICHEL: If you're driving around the New York and the sign was blotted out, okay where am I? You just don't know. Achituv is doing it for more personal reasons. He grew up in Jerusalem and considers it home.
ACHITUV: It's become almost like one of those chores that you have to do to maintain your household. That's sort of how I feel about it so you know clean your house and you clean up your street signs.
ESTRIN: At another busy intersection boys driving by yell ï¿½leftiesï¿½ and ï¿½disgusting.ï¿½ Achituv tries not to dwell on that.
ACHITUV: What I would like to believe that we're doing is countering it by diffusing it but I know that what we perceive as diffusion is counter-provocation on the other side.
ESTRIN: As for Jerusalem's municipal government it does consider the graffiti vandalism but one official told me it's so wide spread that they've essentially thrown up their hands. He said the city hasn't allocated enough funding for a major cleanup because it's not considered a top priority. So the vigilante community maintenance work continues although with a change of personnel. Achituv and Sichel are passing off their project to some friends because Achituv is leaving Israel next week to work at university in South Korea and Sichel is starting a graduate degree in Michigan. This is their last day on street sign duty.
SICHEL: Wait Ro, are you sure don't want to turn down there because there's one to fix there. Watch out.
ESTRIN: For The World I'm Daniel Estrin in Jerusalem.
MULLINS: You can see photos of the Jerusalem sign crew at The World dot org.