Being the major component of the Palestinian identity and the proof of its link to the land, the Arabic language has always been a source of concern for Israel which has for a long time been engaged in non-stop attempts at eliminating non-Hebrew heritage in the country.
Israeli government and people have been calling for the marginalization of the Arabic language and imposing Hebrew on the 1.5 million Arabs who lives inside Israel, also called Arabs of 1948, especially in education. In fact, several Israeli studies revealed that students in Hebrew schools look down upon their Arabic-speaking counterparts.
As part of the ongoing efforts to cancel the official status of the Arabic language in Israel, member of Knesset Aryeh Eldad submitted a draft law that calls for removing Arabic as the second language after Hebrew.
Eldad’s bill, which was circulated among MKs for primary reading, proposes that Hebrew becomes Israel’s only primary language while Arabic, English, and Russian become secondary languages. The bill requires modification of the 1922 British royal edict that made Hebrew and Arabic the two primary official languages in Israel.
Elimination of Arab identity
The proposal is line with Israeli policies in general and which all revolve around the gradual obliteration of the Palestinian identity, said professor Mohammed Emara, an Arab-Israeli.
“In the past two years, the Knesset has been discussing several proposals that enforce the Hebrew identity and targeting the Arabic language is a priority in this regard,” he told AlArabiya.net.
Arabic, Emara explained, constitutes a serious threat to the Jewish identity from the point of view of Netanyahu’s extreme right government.
According to Emara, the problem does not stop at legislative procedures but also extends to the popular level as animosity towards the Arabic language has been remarkably increasing.
“There has been popular pressure to remove road signs in Arabic or to only write an Arabic transliteration of Hebrew names. Also, several employees and laborers were harassed to stop talking in Arabic during working hours.”
Emara warned that if the bill is approved and Arabic becomes no longer a language of communication, it is not only the Palestinian identity that will be threatened, but also the daily lives of Palestinians who live in Israel, many of whom do not speak Hebrew.
“Palestinians who do not know Hebrew won’t reach their destinations as they won’t be able to read the Hebrew signs and won’t be able to read official documents that used to reach them in Arabic. They will be in trouble if this happens.”
However, Emara said he is hopeful that if the bill is approved, several modifications will be made to it so that Arabic is not totally eliminated.
“If the bill eases restrictions on Arabic, this will not be because the Israeli government cares about its Arab population, but only to avoid harsh criticism by the International Community for those racist practices.”
Regarding ways to resist in the war against Arabic, Emara suggested that local authorities in predominantly-Arab towns and cities insist on using the Arabic language in communicating with residents, keeping road signs in Arabic and instigating owners of stores and restaurants to use Arabic signs.
“It is also important to launch a series of awareness and cultural programs.”
Emara praised the efforts of Arab organizations across Israel and which are adamant in using Arabic in their correspondence and programs.
“There is a simple rule: You nourish a language when you use it. We have to use our Arabic language in all aspects of our lives. This is how we can resist attempts at erasing our identity and denying our existence.”
(Translated from Arabic by Sonia Farid)