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Who speaks Arabic anyway?

Materials about cultural events and health services, and even street signs, are often written in Hebrew and English only, ignoring the 20 percent of Israel’s citizens who are native Arabic speakers. ‘It shouldn’t be this way; Palestinians, as an indigenous national minority, should feel at home in the state that was established on the land we have called home for centuries.’

By Khalil Mari

Sign welcomes visitors to Haifa in Hebrew and English only, despite the city’s significant Palestinian Arab population. (Photo: Hanay/CC)

Last week I attended a concert in Acre of Andalusian music performed by a group from Ashkelon. The concert itself was enjoyable but the whole experience left a sour taste in the collective mouth of many Palestinian residents of Akko and the surrounding area who were in attendance. While the concert featured exquisite musical compositions in Hebrew and Arabic, the event was advertised solely in Hebrew.

A reminder: Acre, Akko in Hebrew and Akka in Arabic, is one of the country’s five mixed cities. Thirty percent of its residents are Palestinian Arabs. Yet the vast majority of cultural events are advertised in Hebrew only – completely ignoring the fact that 15,000 Palestinians call this ancient Mediterranean city home. Sadly, this is highly typical of the treatment that Palestinians receive in Israel by the authorities, and only the tip of the iceberg.

Many of the Palestinians in attendance at the concert shared their collective frustration at the fact that the ads placed in their mailboxes by the city were entirely in Hebrew. Many of them nearly dismissed the ads as junk mail and were about to throw them out (because they have become accustomed over the years to being excluded from such events) when the word Andalusian caught their eye. Upon inspection they realized what was being advertised and decided to attend.

The feeling of being ignored by one’s own city, state and ruling majority group can scarcely be put into words. Frustration and anger do not begin to convey the explosive emotional reaction to being sidelined, marginalized and treated as completely transparent. The message that our existence is not worthy of recognition is an extremely dangerous one in the best of circumstances – and we live in a political and social reality that is far from normal.

However, this reality permeates every level of Israeli society: most services are offered in Hebrew, Russian and English – but no Arabic. The website of Egged (the national bus carrier) boasts options in Hebrew, English and Russian, but not Arabic. Israel Railroads calls out the stations in Hebrew and English – but not Arabic. Even road signs boast Hebrew and English in large and legible script while Arabic is crammed in between and in such small script as if it were an afterthought or something embarrassing. Once again, the message that tourists are more worthy of recognition and attention than 20 percent of the country’s population is highly discriminatory, humiliating and quite dangerous.

Even a city like Haifa, which is the self-proclaimed seat of co-existence in Israel and takes every opportunity to boast its uniquely harmonious fabric of Jewish and Palestinian populations living side by side in peace, is guilty of negligence despite the pains it takes to be more inclusive than others. Haifa’s children’s theater festival has for many years been advertised in Hebrew only. When Sikkuy (an organization for the advancement of civic equality in Israel) approached the city through Sikkuy’s Shared Public Space Project regarding advertising the festival in Arabic also, the response was a very ignorant: “But the Arabs don’t come anyway.”

The city’s leadership actually needed to be told that if they wanted Palestinian children to attend they might try reaching out to them in their own language. This, it turns out, was a revolutionary idea, and this from a city that really does make an effort to be inclusive – at least more than others.

The fact that Arabic is (still) an official language in Israel doesn’t even need to be mentioned; I do mention it because we Palestinians often use this argument as we feel it is our last recourse. The state makes it clear that we are not wanted here and the only argument at our disposal, so many of us feel, is the legal one. It shouldn’t be this way; Palestinians, as an indigenous national minority, should feel at home in the state that was established on the land we have called home for centuries. Yet the state continuously makes us feel unwanted. A long list of discriminatory laws makes this feeling inevitable and unavoidable; the latest amendment to the Governance Law and the continued attempts to disqualify Arabic as an official language of the state are only the most recent examples.

My assertion that this trend is dangerous entails no threats. It is simply the expression of the honest fear that continued discrimination and marginalization cannot end well. It requires no genius or sociological scholarship to conclude that long term frustration is a dangerous mechanism – with the potential to make losers of all of us, Jews and Palestinians alike. Absurdly, it seems that many Jews with settler and right-wing affiliations would consider this loss a twisted victory of sorts.

Khalil Mari of Sikkuy: The Association for the Advancement of Civic Equality, is a co-director of the “Equality Zones” project advancing Arab-Jewish municipal cooperation on a regional scale in Israel.

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  • COMMENTS

    1. Old Haifa Boy

      My friends!

      Reply to Comment
    2. Lauren

      I agree with you completely. Beersheva, a mixed city also, is no different from Haifa but Arabic advertising is hard to be found. Similarly, a few years ago, the Negev Coexistence Forum for Civil Equality waged a “battle” with Israel Railways on the name of the station now called “Lehavim-Rahat” which serves the populations of both communities although the latter had been excluded from the original station name. It’s time those in high places took a good look around them and rethought this mistaken and discriminatory policy. We all have a lot to gain by recognizing each other’s languages and cultures.

      Reply to Comment
      • Kolumn9

        Beersheva has a few thousand Arabs living in a city of 200,000 Jews. It is not classified officially as a mixed city. All the Arabs speak Hebrew and there are plenty of other languages that are spoken in Beer Sheva that don’t appear in advertisements. Why should anyone waste their money on advertisements in Arabic?

        Reply to Comment
    3. Tamar

      I live in TLV, and have long been seeking a tutor in Arabic. I ask for leads or referrals from only those people I think/hope will simply know or not know, and tell me. Yet my request is not simple. Yesterday, for example, at the Carmel Shuk, I asked the multilingual shopkeeper I have been buying from several years. His first response, Why study Arabic? And, not stopping for my answer, pressed me to learn “something else, something better.” “Why not French?” he mused. Frustrating, sad, ridiculous, ignorant. And deadly.

      Reply to Comment
      • Kolumn9

        Well, you might have good reasons to learn Arabic, but the shopkeeper is probably right in pointing out that learning French is more practically useful.

        In any case, you should post your query to one of the Facebook groups related to Tel Aviv – for English speakers the good ones are Secret Tel Aviv and Israel Cafe.

        Reply to Comment
      • sh

        I don’t live in Tel Aviv but went to Jaffa in the hope of finding a course in local Arabic because I’d already studied a bit of the formal kind abroad. I was astonished to find that even Palestinian Israelis find it perfectly normal to teach it through transliterated Hebrew rather than via the Arabic alphabet. It’s much faster, the teacher told me to a chorus of agreement from other Israelis on the course I visited. How long does it take to learn an alphabet – even if it’s an especially difficult one?, I asked – I think even dolts like me had grasped the essentials within a month. Well, there’s an enormous difference between spoken and written Arabic, came the answer. So what? How do people scribble their shopping lists?, I asked. Etc. Got nowhere.

        So if you do find a tutor who treats it as a language like all other languages instead of a special problem, give us a shout.

        Reply to Comment
        • Tamar

          With pleasure.

          Reply to Comment
        • Ed

          After studying Arabic for several years I am quite familiar with the problem you’re describing. Although we all know there is a difference between spoken and written Arabic, I really find that this difference is over-exaggerated to the point that most people choose to learn one kind and ignore the other … there’s really no need to do this! Since Arabic speakers use both kinds for different purposes in their daily lives, I think a great Arabic teacher will encourage students to speak ‘spoken’ and write ‘written’. It’s really not beyond anyone’s abilities, and it shouldn’t stop anyone from studying a very rewarding and beautiful language like Arabic.

          Reply to Comment
          • Kolumn9

            A great Arabic teacher will determine what the student wishes to achieve and will help them achieve that. For people studying Arabic this is either to be able to go about their daily lives in an Arabic speaking environment or to study Arabic academically for whatever reason. For the former the biggest bang for the buck is to teach one to speak enough to communicate in daily life (that is in colloquial Arabic which is what people that are not on television actually speak). For the latter it is to learn the basics of the grammar, verb forms, cases, and the vast sea of ancient baggage that Arabic carries. Like with Sh, I have no idea why you would wish on anyone the confusion of trying to learn both Fusha and colloquial at the same time while still pretending that it is the same language. I categorically take the other approach. Think of them as separate languages. Learn one and the other will certainly be easier to learn.

            Reply to Comment
        • Kolumn9

          The spoken Arabic would in any case have to be ‘transliterated’ into Arabic letters (transliterated because what would be written down would never be proper MSA). Nor would learning spoken Arabic help terribly much with reading MSA, so the effort of learning the alphabet would be effectively wasted for anyone not wishing to continue on to learning MSA.

          Arabic is not a language like all other languages. Good luck speaking Syrian Arabic with a Moroccan or Yemenite Arabic with an Iraqi. Good luck trying to read Fusha after learning Syrian Arabic and the alphabet. These are not dialects in the European sense of the word. They are practically separate languages like German/Dutch and Portuguese/Spanish. MSA is another artificial language designed to allow somewhat educated Arabs to speak to each other derived from Classical Arabic (or one of the classical Arabics anyway). Then again you know all this, as does anyone else that studied Arabic. I have no idea what purpose it serves to obfuscate these facts.

          Reply to Comment
    4. Kolumn9

      You got the advertisement in the mail. You read the advertisement. You made it to the concert. How did you get from receiving an advertisement that you were perfectly able to read and attending a concert in both Hebrew and Arabic to your BS claims about exclusion?

      And yes, the fact that Arabic is an official language in Israel does need to be mentioned. Because otherwise Arabic has exactly the same claim to resources and representation as Russian and I don’t see you being upset that signs are missing Russian translations even though 15%+ of the population speaks Russian. Which brings us to real point of an organization like Sikkuy. It has little to do with ‘civic equality’ because the only issues that concern Sikkuy are those concerning Arabs. In other words, the purpose of Sikkuy is to pursue preferential treatment for Arabs, not to pursue any kind of civic equality. You demand that unlike the Russian-speaking citizens, the Arabic-speaking citizens get special treatment on the basis of a nationalistic narrative that Arabs have some kind of special rights in this country. This is about as far from fighting for ‘civic equality’ as can possibly be imagined and it is a shame and a disgrace that your European and American paymasters are willing to provide you funding to continue this farce.

      Reply to Comment
      • One cannot do much about market driven language choice, but there is a distinction between prior resident Arabic and Russian via immigration. As to the active us of Arabic as a State language, one cannot simultaneously claim Arabic is dying out but that there is a “demographic threat” derived from Arab increase. Combined, the two statements amount to a proactive State stand against the use of Arabic.

        Reply to Comment
        • Kolumn9

          Why should there be a distinction between the non-official languages spoken by the citizens? There was ‘prior resident’ Turkish and Russian and German and Armenian and Circassian and Aramaic a bunch of other languages spoken here along with Arabic. The demand to grant Arabic special status is the product of a supremacist Arab nationalist narrative of which this author is representative. The only real argument the author has is the one he dismisses – that Arabic for historical reasons is considered an official language.

          The rest of the article is empty of arguments. The author is upset that he didn’t get an advertisement in Arabic even though he somehow managed to struggle through reading it in Hebrew and managed to show up to the concert and presumably understand and enjoyed the Hebrew parts of it as well. The author admits freely that he is not the only one Arab that showed up and plants the ‘sour taste’ in the collective mouths of the others. So, what is the complaint? That the organizers produced advertising in a language in which the author is evidently capable of digesting information?

          Reply to Comment
          • Elisabeth

            Je kan jezelf beter ABC noemen, want zelfs het meest basale begrip voor iemand in een andere positie is bij jou niet aanwezig. En met een beetje moeite kan je dit best lezen dus niet zeiken over dat het in het Nederlands is geschreven.

            Reply to Comment
          • Kolumn9

            Dutch, right? I don’t speak Dutch, like I don’t speak [much] Arabic. Nor did I have to learn Dutch in school. The author however learned Hebrew in school, speaks Hebrew and uses it on a daily basis and is fully capable of reading, writing and speaking in that language.

            Reply to Comment
          • I suspect it Arabic was given official status “for historical reasons” because it was a predominate language. What enrages you is the failure to quash a sign of autonomy in indigenous, replicating communities. Maybe you can get them to stop reproducing too.

            Reply to Comment
          • Kolumn9

            What enrages me? Hahahaha. This is a BS article that the author could have personally written at the same level of quality in Hebrew though that would certainly remove any lick of sense from his bellyaching.

            Reply to Comment
        • sh

          It isn’t market-driven. Concerts of this kind of music would be of interest to both national communities. Khalil says he almost threw the flyer in the bin. How many others actually did?

          Reply to Comment
          • Kolumn9

            Khalil says he almost threw it in the trash because he needs to say that in order to give any semblance of sense to the article. Otherwise he would have to admit that he read it, went along with other Arabs, and enjoyed the concert. The ‘others’ you refer to are perhaps a lost market segment to the organizers of the concert, though I would guess it is more likely that the organizers presumed that their target audience is capable of reading Hebrew (like Khalil).

            Reply to Comment
          • By “market driven” all I mean is not under explicit State sanction. Certainly exclusionist ideology is at work here. I live on the predominately Hispanic side of Phoenix, AZ (“the avenues,” not “the streets”); billboards and store signs are as commonly Spanish and English. This has made many old white people angry. I don’t think the young care much. But Hispanics are an expanding immigrant population, not one cordoned off in law and culture.

            Reply to Comment
      • sh

        Take a look over the parapet if you dare. Note who our immediate neighbours are, what language they and their neighbours speak and with which countries we have peace treaties. I hope you know enough geography not to be surprised to see that Russia is not among them, neither is France. Add to that the important detail that for 20% of our non-Jewish indigenous population, Arabic is their mother-tongue plus, unlike the other two, it is from the same linguistic family as Hebrew and the only conclusion to be drawn is that In such circumstances, it is supremely myopic (as well as thoroughly discourteous and counterproductive) not to make the effort to master Arabic.

        Reply to Comment
        • Kolumn9

          Why? So that I can read the news about the massacres in Syria, Iraq, Egypt and Lebanon? To do business with countries that are collapsing? To read the writings of societies that can’t decide between secular illiberal dictatorship and fundamentalist illiberal theocracy? To travel to places where I might get kidnapped or shot or have my head slowly sawed off? I know who our neighbors are and I wish you well in your search for the best coffee in Damascus or Cairo or Beirut or Baghdad or Sanaa. Given that it is somewhat unlikely you will make a trip to any of these places in the near future what is myopic is to pretend there is much to be gained from learning Arabic.

          I would rather go to Paris or Odessa or St. Petersburg and read Voltaire, Camus, Zola, Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy or Gogol. Not only would I rather go to these places but they also happen to be safer and with modern transportation are both relatively inexpensive to get to and not very far.

          The 20% of our population that happens to speak Arabic at home would likewise be better off learning French or Russian instead of toiling away for years at Fusha.

          Reply to Comment
          • SH

            Dude I don’t what the f your problem is, but you are not making any sense. It takes no time to translate the flyer into Arabic, there are Arabic speakers in Israel, it makes sense. You can go on and on until you’re blue in the face about the hundreds of other languages it’s useful to learn instead of Arabic and make up some bullcrap about the difference between all the dialects, or you can recognise that it is dumb as shit and extremely arrogant to learn French/chinese/russian/italian/spanish etc.. before ever learning the language of your neighbours.

            Reply to Comment
          • Kolumn9

            Dude, you can scream all you want about the beauty of Arabic but there is zero practical value for the average Israeli in learning the language. Every person he is likely to encounter will speak Hebrew in Israel and every person abroad that he visits will speak something other than Arabic. It is a hard language to learn because of the ‘bullcrap’ about the dialects which you likely have no clue about. An average Israeli can probably get to a reasonable level in both French and Italian in the time it would take him to be able to both read a book and have a conversation in Arabic. I have yet to see anyone here make any actual argument for the value of Arabic other than the retarded ‘well there are a bunch of failed, dangerous and collapsing countries that speak it that you will never be able to visit but DUDE it makes perfect sense to learn their ridiculously complicated language just to know it’.

            Reply to Comment
          • Dege

            Hmmm, last time I checked Israel occupied great parts of territories with Arabic speaking population.
            But I understand if this is not relevant, since they should be not there in the eyes of the oppressors or just learn Hebrew.
            Nonsignificant language of nonsignificant people in a land where only Jews and Hebrew count……

            Reply to Comment
          • Kolumn9

            Other than rockets, suicide bombings and Jew-hating propaganda there is really very little of interest emanating from the ‘great parts of territories with Arabic speaking population’. So, indeed, for the purposes of intelligence Arabic is useful. Anyone who is interested in a career with the Shabak should certainly get a head start on learning the language.

            The vast majority of Israelis live in a cultural world where the knowledge of Arabic is useless. There is more culture generated in Israel than in all the surrounding countries combined and with the internet we have access to the best of the world’s culture at our fingertips. We are hardly missing out on whatever flimsy cultural output is generated in the surrounding countries when their populations aren’t busy trying to find their next meal while avoiding getting blown up by the opposition.

            Reply to Comment
    5. Ed

      Interesting article, sadly it seems that the language situation is just another symptom of the unequal status of Palestinians in Israel. Having a quick look around the internet it’s indeed surprising how many Israeli public websites have no Arabic option, even for example the Labor party official website. This would be unimaginable in other officially multilingual countries like Belgium or Canada …

      Reply to Comment
    6. This is something that’s happened gradually over the last 30 years or so, I think. Prior to that, signs were trilingual, which was the way the British set it up during the so-called Mandate. But gradually, Jewish mayors etc have eliminated arabic, in a symptom of the post-1973 mood of intolerance, or ‘triumphalism’.

      Reply to Comment
      • Maybe post 73 bitter anger. The 73 war was at first a near loss. I have heard it said that without American resupply it might well have been lost. I can see that experience beginning the language disdain you note. This is not a matter of right or wrong, but cause.

        Reply to Comment
    7. sh

      Khalil, you don’t say how the concert was. I’m curious.

      Reply to Comment
    8. Bravo. I grew up in Israel as a Jew, and finally noticed this only after attending college in the US 25 years ago. Thetip of the iceberg indeed. Great article!

      Reply to Comment
    9. XYZ

      The fact that you use the term “Palestinians” when you mean Israeli Arabs makes me question how much you really want integration into the state. The term “Palestine” meanst two things:
      (1) The name of the land that the Jews have traditionally called “Eretz Israel” and
      (2) The geo-political entity called “the Palestinian Authority”. Since everyone living in the territory the Arabs call “Palestine”, is a Palestinian then it applies to Jews as well and claiming that “Palestinians” need Arabic in Israeli signs and notices makes no sense for Palestinian Jews who speak the dominant Hebrew language as their main tongu.
      If you are referring to “Palestinians” as residents and citizens of the Palestinian Authority, then the whole thing is irrelevant since they are not residents nor citizens of the areas and mixed towns you are referring to.
      Israeli Arabs certainly may have justified claims about having Arabic written on Israeli signs, but “Palestinians” do not for the reasons I have given.

      Reply to Comment
      • Sammur

        Jordanians aren’t just Arab, they’re Armenian, Circassian, Syrian, Palestinian… No one calls them “Jordanian-West Asians” or “Jordanian-Steppes”. They’re referred to, fairly, as Syrian-Jordanian, Armenian-Jordanian, Circassian-Jordanian, Palestinian-Jordanian.

        Palestinian ancestral descent is Canaanite, Israelite, Phoenician, Philistine, Crete, Jewish, Greek, Roman, and, to a lesser extent, Arab. Why strip them of their own heritage?

        Let them be.

        Reply to Comment
        • XYZ

          I am not sure of the point you are making but Jordan is an Arab country, it defines itself as such, it is a member of the Arab league, Arab language and culture are dominant. Nasser defined an Arab as someone whose main identity is around the Arab language and culture. Israeli Arabs are indeed Arabs according to this definition and are accorded language rights in Israel which date back to the beginning of the state. Defining them as Palestinians doesn’t help define their demand because, as I said, there are Palestinian Jews like myself who don’t speak Arabic and Palestinian Arabs, as the term is used, are citizens of the Palestinian Authority, which is not a party to this discussion.

          Reply to Comment
          • Sammur

            Your points are valid and I cannot argue with them.

            My point was that when it comes to issues of identity, I think you should allow the concerned individual/group (and, in this case, the author of the article that we’ve just read) identify themselves as they wish because it’s a a very personal issue.

            Out of curiosity, you live in Nablus/Skhem?

            Reply to Comment
      • My host family in Bethlehem has relatives in Nazareth, Israeli citizens. They all consider themselves to be Palestinian. They share the same heritage and history and have customs that do differ from those found in the neighbouring countries, even while there are many similarities. The whole category of ‘Israeli Arab’ is promoted by people who are uneasy about admitting that there can be any specific community connection between Nazareth and Bethlehem beyond some generic ‘Arabness’, for obvious reasons. It’s often used as a form of erasure. This is why some people opt not to use it. I think you can understand that.

        Historically, Palestinian Jews have also been subjected to a form of erasure. A while ago I researched an article on Jews and Jewishness in Palestinian cultural imagination and traced their disappearance. I found a lot of fascinating stuff I hadn’t known about cultural transmission between the different subcommunities here in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and how they influenced each other – how even in the twentieth century there were Palestinian Muslim women in Jerusalem who could speak Ladino as a result of daily contact with Sephardi women. But then, when I opened Rashid Khalidi’s fairly recent book on the formation of modern Palestinian national identity (which has a chapter on the influence of the press), I noticed that none of the Ladino papers (most notably El Tiempo) were included in his analysis, even though the articles they were publishing during the time period showed that this subsection of the Jewish community was heavily engaged with Palestinian Arab society and discussing the same issues that were appearing in the Arabic language press, in rather similar ways. Khalidi doesn’t have a word to say about the Hebrew-language Ha’Herut either, which offers some interesting perspectives on his topic. I doubt that he purposely decided to exclude these papers from consideration; the fact that they weren’t in Arabic meant that they probably weren’t even on his radar. It’s sad. When people began to see linguistic purity as a mark of national belonging (and it has happened and is still happening among both Jews and Arabs) then subcommunities were just rendered invisible, no matter how much they might have contributed to the community as a whole.

        Mahmoud Darwish once said that he envisioned Palestinian identity as a meeting-place, which is an interesting way to think of it given the diverse groups of people who have lived here over the years, the place’s prominent position on the old trade routes, the porous nature of the Ottoman borders, etc. There is room for a lot of people and subcultures here. If you honestly consider yourself to be a Palestinian Jew, then you can and should describe yourself as such; if anyone wants to stop you then you can just tell them how much meaning and history is attached to that term. But to really explore those things it’s necessary to know at least some Arabic, as so much of the source material – songs, newspaper articles, folkore, devotional works, literature – is in that language. It is a real loss and a problem that more Jewish Israelis don’t speak it.

        Reply to Comment
    10. ARTH

      I agree with this author: That everything should be written also in Arabic and in letters the same size as the Hebrew and the English and the Russian. But, I would still like to point out that virtually all of the Arabs who are Israeli citizens know Hebrew and often know it on a higher level that immigrants to Israel and even many native Israeli “Jews.”

      Reply to Comment
    11. Marcos

      Articles like this are the result of people continuing to make the Palestinians victims. See how well victimization is part of the culture?. As pointed out, most Arabic speakers know Hebrew as well. Plenty of Arabs went to the concert. What else is necessary? A limo rode and back stage passes? The analogy of Hispanics in the American west is farcical. Most immigrants in the US who can learn English want to learn English. Their preference would be to not need signs in Spanish.

      Reply to Comment
      • sh

        Comments like this are vain attempts to evade the fact that in deed, Israel has done its best, since its inception, to stifle any hint that it may not have lived up to the words it took such care to describe in its declaration of independence.

        http://www.haaretz.com/jewish-world/israel-in-camera/1.530105

        Reply to Comment
      • Sammur

        “Most immigrants in the US who can learn English want to learn English. Their preference would be to not need signs in Spanish.”

        You’re so well informed, a learned and erudite person, one with profound knowledge of Hispanic/Latino American issues.

        You further showcase your brilliance by comparing an indigenous group of people who are native to one land, to a group of… well, immigrants.

        Bravo.

        Reply to Comment
        • Kolumn9

          Well, except for the fact that the vast majority of Arabs in Israel speak excellent Hebrew thus, like the author, facing no actual language impediments to consuming information and marketing in Hebrew. In fact they are flooded with Hebrew-language marketing as the author attests because it is an effective way of advertising to that community.

          Also, not all Latinos accept that they are… well immigrants. Some in Arizona believe they are the indigenous people coming back to their land.

          Also, and I feel it should be pointed out, that Hebrew is in fact an indigenous language to the region and it is a Semitic language like Arabic with a much simplified grammar which makes it easy for Arabic-speakers to learn and master.

          Reply to Comment
          • sh

            Which doesn’t alter the fact that you’ll need Arabic rather than, or at least in addition to, Hebrew if you want to understand what’s going on in the immense space that immediately surrounds you.

            “Driving through the two tunnels underneath Beit Jala, I was again struck by the indomitable will of the Israelis, who have dug through the hard limestone just to shorten the distance to Jerusalem and make the settlements in the south more appealing. And yet I could not help feeling that there was something desperately sad here. These settlers willingly place themselves where they are not wanted, as though it is their eternal fate not to live in harmony with the communities around them. As though this tremendous energy to gouge out the lovely hills and establish their settlements emanates from the negative persuasion that they must always force their way through and impose their presence, never trying a different approach, never hearing the numerous pleas for peace their neighbours have repeatedly made. They seem to live with such self-hatred that they cannot believe that anyone would willingly agree to live with them.” – Raja Shehadeh, Occupation Diaries.

            Reply to Comment
          • Kolumn9

            Again your logic is based on the assumption that there is much of value to understand in the immense space that immediately surrounds us and that this is a practically useful and worthwhile pursuit for anyone outside the intelligence and academic worlds. There isn’t. From every cultural metric one would be further enriched learning any of the major European languages. From the point of view of travel Arabic is useless for Israelis since it is unsafe to travel to the Arab world, and this is before even pointing out that whichever dialect one chooses to learn would be useless in the rest of the Arab world and learning Fusha is useless for day-to-day communication in any of the countries. For practical purposes in Israel itself all the Arabs speak Hebrew, as does the entire business world in Israel, and very little business is done with the Arab world.

            The quoted paragraph is retarded. “negative persuasion”! Before Arabs decided to target Israeli civilians the same Jewish residents of Gush Etzion would drive through Beit Jala and go shopping in Bethlehem. There was no need for bypass roads and walls. Raja Shehadeh may choose to sell this as being sad, but if the alternatives are either getting shot or stoned while driving or leaving behind our land we are going to do whatever is necessary to stay without caring one iota about whether someone else thinks this is an ‘imposition’. As long as those on the Arab side that pretend to talk peace continue to talk as if the presence of a Jew is an ‘imposition’ we know they are not talking about peace. They are talking about us submitting to them and then them maybe being generous about whether to kill us now or drive us out later.

            Reply to Comment
          • sh

            You just illustrated the sad condition he describes beautifully. Thanks. Over and out.

            Reply to Comment
          • Kolumn9

            Happy to oblige/impose.

            Reply to Comment
    12. Yair

      I agree with most of what the author has written. I would also add that this poor attitude on the part of the authorities coincides with two larger trends: a general idolatry of the English-speaking world (which is common in many diverse countries but moreso in Israel) as well as a total negation of the Arabic-speaking heritage of many Israeli Jews as well. Together these speak to a neurotic need to psychologically distance everything ‘oriental’, which is counterproductive in the long run.

      Reply to Comment
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