Israel Speaks Neither Hebrew nor Arabic These Days (Just English)

All U.S. President Barack Obama had to was to land here, and everyone ingratiated themselves to him. Israel’s president and prime minister, even the Iron Dome anti-missile system, they all grumbled in English. In contrast, the henpecked Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas spoke in Arabic, the language of his people.

Odeh Bisharat
Odeh Bisharat
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An Israeli road sign, with signage in Hebrew, Arabic and English.
An Israeli road sign, with signage in Hebrew, Arabic and English.Credit: Mohammad Karim
Odeh Bisharat
Odeh Bisharat

If Naftali Bennett doesn’t recognize Arabic as an official language of the state will its 422 million speakers around the world hold a day of mourning? Will one of the alphabet’s 29 letters be dropped?

Relax, nothing will happen to Arabic, whose first dictionary had 80,000 entries ‏(twice as many as its English counterpart‏). It is only the proscriber who loses, missing out on the language’s beauty and richness, its wisdom and spiritual depth.

Arabic is an environment, not just the language of Arabs. Those who aspire to a normal life respect the environment, they don’t spit on it. Abu Adel, may he rest in peace, was a mainstay of the Israel Communist Party’s Nazareth headquarters. One time, when someone called the office and asked who Abu Adel was, even though he was the one who answered, Abu Adel replied that anyone who didn’t know shouldn’t bother calling the party and hung up.

The same thing applies to anyone who does not respect Arabic. What are they doing here in the first place? Why would anyone who hates the sea live near the beach, where they arrogantly demand that the sea be dried up?

By the way, my brother Naftali, we might as well delete ahi, “my brother,” from Hebrew language, since it is the Siamese twin of its Arabic equivalent.

In his book “The Dream of the White Sabra” ‏(available in Hebrew only‏), Meron Benvenisti writes that the richness of the names Arabs gave to various places is “amazing in its beauty and sensitivity to the landscape, in its perception and imagery ... without the Arabs’ preservation of older Hebrew-Aramaic place names the Zionists would have been unable to construct their Hebrew maps. They rewarded the Arabs by erasing all Arabic names from the map.”

Now, after the places, it is the turn of the Arabic language. The pathological obsession with erasure points to low self-confidence.

What did I do in my past life to deserve this, wails a character in Yu Hua’s 1994 novel “Chronicle of a Blood Merchant,” that fate has placed above arrogant people, ignorant of history, who hurst the present as well as the past?

In his famous poem “El Ard Betetkalem Arabi” ‏(“The land speaks Arabic”‏), the Egyptian poet Fouad Haddad writes: “The land speaks Arabic, with love and longing. The branch springs upward, so the root can smell the light.”

Now Bennett comes along and seeks to bury the roots. The Turks, we should remember, tried to impose tatrik, or Turkification, on the Hebrew culture and language when they ruled here; where are the Turks today? Anyone who seels to dry up the root withers the branch. The root, notwithstanding the branch’s cruel fate, will survive.

On the other hand, on the main street of Nazareth is an intersection called Kfar Hahoresh. The city’s Arab residents never even questioned the use of a Hebrew name in their midst rather than an Arabic one. They are free of the curse of the obsession for erasure.

From this intersection one can get to Kfar Hahoresh, isolated and fortified, somewhere out there. I have yet to meet anyone from that village. The Nazareth intersection is named for an invisible place. Is that naive? Perhaps, but it is a healthy naivete, that even in anger does not dismiss the “other.”

At present the land speaks neither Hebrew nor Arabic. Just last week it spoke English. All U.S. President Barack Obama had to was to land here, and everyone ingratiated themselves to him. Israel’s president and prime minister, even the Iron Dome anti-missile system, they all grumbled in English.

In contrast, the henpecked Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas spoke in Arabic, the language of his people.

Meanwhile, in addition to Arabic I enjoy writing and reading Hebrew, a lovely and vibrant language. I pity those who are fated to live in exile, far from their native environment.

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