Should Israelis learn Arabic

Should Israelis Learn More Arabic?

Shlomo Alon was Head of the Arabic Language Department in the Israel Ministry of Education for 25 years. I meet him at the Center for Progressive Judaism in Jerusalem called Beit Shmuel. The friendly 67-year-old wears a kippah, the headgear of male Jews. "When I'm abroad, I often take it off because it immediately triggers associations that I can't find again," he explains while we are sitting in the cafeteria.

But can you take off a language like a kippah and put it on whenever it suits you? “Yes, and no.” The young generation of around 1.5 million Arab Israelis knows this. For them, switching between Hebrew and Arabic is just as much a part of everyday life as confronting the prejudices of Jewish-Israeli society. The very name itself creates controversy "Most Arabs in Israel define themselves as Palestinian Arabs with Israeli citizenship," says Alon. For the Jewish population, however, Palestinian and Israeli are at the same time a blatant contradiction. And if you were to ask these Palestinian Arabs whether they would like to live in a future Palestinian state, 99 percent would say no, "never". From a state perspective, they are Israelis, but culturally Palestinian-Arabic and linguistically at home in both worlds.

Shlomo Alon started learning Arabic at the age of 14. During his career in the Ministry of Education, he has attended hundreds of schools. Always with the same order. "I tried to turn the Arabic language into a real second national language," he explains, explaining his motivation. But he fell on deaf ears at many schools. Although, according to the school schedule, all Jewish young people between the ages of 12 and 16 should learn Arabic The reality is often different. "There are many exceptions. Religious schools say, for example, that children have to study the Talmud instead. In total, perhaps a third of all 16-year-olds have a knowledge of the language," he explains. Arab young people, on the other hand, have to learn Hebrew from the start, as well as English and of course the complicated standard Arabic, which is very different from the dialects they speak at home.

He was often enough to be inspected in schools. After long speeches about the importance of the Arabic language for coexistence in Israel, the big "but" usually followed. Even if Hebrew is to remain the dominant national language of Israel, a social potential remains unused for Shlomo Alon. He has repeatedly noticed how learning Arabic gives young people the chance to understand the "others" better. That would also make parents' attitudes towards Arabs more positive, he says. (Andreas Hackl,, November 2nd, 2011)

Note: I will publish a detailed article on language and cultural identity in the next issue of the human rights magazine "Liga".