Opponents of Israel's nation-state law were downcast when the legislation was enacted by the Knesset last week. Ghadir Hani, 40, a social activist from the Arab town of Hura, near Be’er Sheva, has found a way to convert the sadness and humiliation into a springboard for positive action. After the law was passed, she suggested that her Jewish friends add their name in Arabic to their social media profiles – and she’d be happy to help them do just that.
The initiative spread rapidly: Thousands of Jews who oppose the law added their name in Arabic script. By midweek this week, Hani had helped 400 people who wanted to protest the legislation, one of whose clauses downgrades Arabic from an official language to a language bearing an undefined “special status.”
“Adding the name in Arabic is a statement showing that people care and that it’s important for them that the Arabic language has a place,” Hani says. “Language connects people, and that’s a bridge to opening hearts.”
The project’s success took her by surprise. “I don’t know how I reached the whole world. Israelis who live in France and Australia contacted me, and that’s very moving. I didn’t sleep for three days. People are constantly sending me their name. Someone sent me her name on Saturday at 3 A.M. – she’s in the United States. It was amazing. It made me happy to know there are people who care.”
Hani notes that her idea has stirred a general interest in Arabic. “[Jewish] girlfriends in Be’er Sheva told me they want to study Arabic, and we set a time to meet,” she says. “I’m also trying to organize meetings in Hura so people will start visiting Arab towns and the fear will disappear.”
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I asked her what she felt when the law passed. “It was hard,” she said. “I stayed awake until the morning to watch the vote and all the attempts to amend the bill. I was encouraged by the ratio between the supporters and opponents: 55 voted against and 62 in favor. It was close.”
Acre-born Hani is active in many projects of coexistence and women’s empowerment. Besides being a member of Women Wage Peace, a grassroots movement, she takes part in many social projects in Hura such as Wadi Attir, a Jewish-Bedouin initiative to establish a model sustainable farm.
“For example, I organized a tree-planting event after the murder of Ron Kokia in Arad by Bedouin [last December],” she says. “I did it from a humane place. People said I was a heroine for organizing an event for a soldier, but that’s how I was brought up. I was very touched by the fact that his father said he still believes in coexistence.”
It’s pleasant, and indeed necessary, to hear Hani’s optimism. “Even though we didn’t manage to get the law changed, they won’t stop people from connecting,” she says. “Learning the language and seeing the encounter between Jews and Arabs is amazing. If there’s an extreme action, the people who meet with us won’t accept it and will try to block it.”
I asked her what she meant by “an extreme action.” “For example, after a public campaign over a Be’er Sheva bus line, the stops are now announced in Arabic, too,” she replied.
“In the wake of the nation-state law, a Facebook page was opened to try to get end the Arabic announcements. I’m not saying we’ll be expelled [from the country], even though with this government there’s no knowing. The encounter as such is important,” she added.
“I disagree with 90 percent of the opinions held by some of the women I’ve met with. I even have a settler friend now whom I don’t agree with, but I listen to her and she listens to me. Some of the women get angry when I say I’m a ‘Palestinian.’ I tell them to get over it: I’m a Palestinian citizen of Israel.”