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Arabs, speak Hebrew!

Salman Masalha

Arabs, speak Hebrew!

Many Arab eyebrows - those of politicians and populist education officials - will no doubt be raised when they read this headline. At the same time, we should discuss the issue of language with due seriousness and detached from the sensitivity connected to it.

The Education Ministry recently published data on achievement levels in the school system. One finding particularly caught my eye - on achievements of students examined in Hebrew, especially Arab pupils. The report spoke of the catastrophic situation in the Arab community and said Arab students had the lowest average grade in Hebrew language. The grade in Arabic for Arab Students was only slightly higher.

Recent research by Prof. Zohar Eviatar and Dr. Rafiq Ibrahim of the University of Haifa's psychology department explain the problem from another angle. The researchers compared the speed and accuracy of comprehending texts among Arabic speakers, Hebrew speakers and English speakers. They found that the right hemisphere of the brain is involved in learning to read in Hebrew and English but not at all in learning to read Arabic.

This stems from the graphic complexity of Arabic writing, they believe. Arabic letters are joined together and change shape according to their location in a word. In addition, many letters are distinguished from one another by minute graphic signs alone. Thus Arabic writing's graphic uniqueness becomes a heavy burden on children when they are learning to read.

The data explain the considerable gap between students at Arabic-language schools and those at schools where the language of instruction is Hebrew or English. The data also partially explain Israel's low standing compared with the developed countries in international tests of schoolchildren. This gap, linked to the language's sad situation, exists in the entire Arab world. It's not by chance that not one Arab university is among the world's best 500 universities. This finding has nothing to do with Zionism or Israel.

Everyone knows that the Arabic taught in schools is compared with Hebrew or any other foreign language, but it is not the language Arab children speak at home. The mother tongue they speak at home is totally different from the literary Arabic taught at school. This situation exists throughout the Arab world.

The Arab public in Israel is not isolated from the general Arabic linguistic arena. The Arabic-language media, especially radio and television, do not provide the linguistic richness of formal Arabic. The opposite is true: They perpetuate linguistic superficiality that leads to intellectual superficiality.

Despite all this, an educational revolution is possible here. The positive results of such a revolution would be felt in just a few years. To this end, we need the courage to put the ultimate educational demand on the table: The Arabic and Druze departments at the Education Ministry must be abolished immediately and all the syllabi must be united into one core syllabus for everyone. Some 80 percent of the syllabus should include the teaching materials required for a modern and advanced education. For the remainder, special emphasis on the cultural interests of a segment of the population should be permitted.

We can conduct yet another revolutionary experiment - choose from the Arab community one or more class and decide that the language of instruction there, from kindergarten through high school, will be Hebrew. If we carry out an experiment like this, I'm convinced the positive results will not be long in coming.
Published: Opinion-Haaretz, September 27, 2020

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When Ovadia, or Abdullah, reigneth

Salman Masalha

When Ovadia, or Abdullah, reigneth

The Days of Awe lie ahead of us. Awful days in Hebrew and in Arabic. Every man will not sit under his vine nor will every senior citizen recline under his fig tree, but rather night and day they will study "Torat Hamelech: Laws of Life and Death between Israel and the Nations," the laws of hatred that are spreading through Israel.

We have already seen the rabbis mustering support for Rabbi Yitzhak Shapira, the author of the book, which deals with the laws of life and death between Israel and everyone else and discusses the laws with regard to killing gentiles in times of peace or war.

And again, yes again, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, the "spiritual" leader of Shas, delivers a sermon and smites us once again: "May our enemies and those who hate us die, Abu Mazen and all these evil people should perish from this world. God should smite them with a plague, the Ishmaelites, those Palestinians - evil, bitter enemies of Israel," as he is quoted as having said this week.

As the author of the Book of Proverbs might have written, there be many things which are too wonderful for me, yea, many that I know not. The way of the politicians from here and from there. The way of a politician, who like a fish fills his mouth with water upon hearing words of denunciation. The way of the man of religion, who creeps like a serpent upon a rock and ambushes easy prey with a sermon before the Days of Awe. The way of a racist politician who shuts his ears upon hearing these things here whilst hastening to quote from every stage similar things from the other side. The way of the man of religion who behaves like an adulterous woman, swallows the imprecations, wipes his mouth and says: I have heard no evil, or in other words: The rabbi's words have been taken out of context. About this sort of thing the author of the Book of Proverbs has already written of the land when the earth trembles: "A servant when he reigneth."

I hear these things and I read the reactions to them that haven't been tardy in coming, from here and from there. I don't know whether to laugh or to cry. As fate would have it, the words of the abusive rabbi sound very familiar to me in translation from the Arabic. As if the rabbi's name were not Ovadia but rather Abdullah, and as if it the sermon was not in Hebrew, but rather in Arabic.

From here the calls in Hebrew are repeated: "May those who hate us die and God should smite them with a plague, those Ishmaelites ..." And from there are heard, as though in a mirror, the same words of abuse in Arabic: "God, smite and destroy the Jews, descendents of monkeys and pigs, make their wives widows, make their children orphans..." - and other such pearls of pure Semitic.

"If heaven-forbid a Muslim cleric were to express himself against the Jews in those same words he would be arrested immediately," Balad MK Jamal Zahalka hastened to write to the attorney general, calling upon him to indict the rabbi. Apparently the energetic parliamentarian doesn't know anything at all about the heritage of Arabic imprecations.

If they were to arrest all the preachers of hatred in Hebrew and in Arabic, the Israeli, Palestinian and pan-Arab prison services would have their hands full. People, from here and from there, often wonder where all those rabid words come from. However, as is their habit, they always refuse to lay their finger on the root of the evil. They all prefer to bury their heads in the sand. And the sand in this Semitic expanse is quicksand, very much so.

Therefore, the time has come to tell it like it is. There is no need to go into contortions of strange and varied explanations. All the evil words, both in Hebrew and in Arabic, are nourished by the hatred from that same sewer, that same teat called monotheism. And when in this udder God and a tribal code mingle, only a toxic mix can emerge.

There is an antidote to this poison. Only courage is needed to use it. It is called separation of religion and state. Or in other words, if you will: taking the Holy One, blessed be He, away from the law.
Published: Opinion - Haaretz, September 1, 2010
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