Ask any of us what we would rather study, and we'll tell you we prefer Hebrew language over Arabic," says Mohammed Yezbak, almost 21, from
The keyboard holds no attractions for Yezbak. Instead, he is now enrolled in the Department of Hebrew Language at
Hebrew is alive and well. At least in the Arab and Druze communities. For students from those sectors, the Hebrew language has become the new business administration - a social and professional catapult to get ahead and succeed in life. The sticklers add Hebrew literature, too. It's a triumph of practicality over ideology. The traditional attitude that language is part of national identity and that to study Hebrew is to cross the line, has given way to the quiet conquest of the Hebrew Language Department - at the
"To be a high-school teacher is fine, respectable work," says Ta'ir Kizel, from Maghar, a Druze-Muslim-Christian village in
The universities are having trouble digesting the new clients of Hebrew-language studies. "This image is extremely harmful to us," says
A matter of survival
At all the country's universities, Hebrew studies are in decline. "The humanities are in a bad way," says Prof. Chaim Cohen, head of the Hebrew Language Department at
"Even if it comes out of necessity, the result is better," says Dr. Tamar Sovran, the head of the Hebrew language section. "It led to interdisciplinary enrichment for both students and faculty."
The situation in
A society without humanities is a society void of content, Prof. Ben-Artzi says. "Every civilized society has grasped that.
How few students would it take to get the university to close the department?
"Everyone wants biotechnology, business administration and economics, and this is something new. But I cannot imagine that a department of Hebrew language or Bible will be shut down. It is inconceivable that people should complete a first degree in
Dynamics of life
But until that happens, the Jewish heritage will be studied, and without self-righteousness, by Arab students, or, as they are referred to in universities that uphold political correctness, non-speakers of Hebrew. "Suddenly the Arabs discovered that you don't have to be a Zionist in order to take
In recent years Arab students constituted 75 percent of the first-year students in the department, and now they are about 40 percent, Prof. Efrat explains. "I cannot lower the level and be flexible, because we are not a Hebrew ulpan [referring to intensive courses taken by new immigrants]. If I see students who do not meet the standards, I call them in for a personal interview, and if I am persuaded that they are not capable, then the answer is no. This creates terrible tension with the university, because if I admit fewer students, then obviously there will be fewer graduates."
The number of graduates is important because that is the criterion by which the state budgets each university. Statistically, then, it is in each department's interest to admit as many students as possible who will complete their studies - a factor that is hard to predict. Suzanne Shaar, a 29-year-old Christian Arab, started her love affair with Hebrew in high school, inspired by her teacher. "We studied Hebrew language and literature in a special program for Arabs," she says. "I took five [matriculation] units. I was drawn to the thorough way the teacher taught Hebrew language. When I completed twelfth grade I knew that I was going to study Hebrew at university." Shaar obtained a BA and an MA, did research on grammatical phenomena in Hebrew discourse, attended a teachers college and is now teaching Hebrew literature, language and expression in two private schools in
How does your society accept the fact that you are an expert in Hebrew language?
"I come from a family of coexistence. I lived in the Ein Hayam [neighborhood], with Jews. I always got positive responses from my parents. They imparted to me values of accepting the other, not life with racism. During periods of war, we were for peace."
Hadil Abu Fares-Kamal, a Druze woman of 26, was born in Isfiya and since getting married has lived in Daliat al-Carmel. She teaches Hebrew language in the junior high of the prestigious Reali school in
What does your social environment say about your focus on Hebrew?
"When I enrolled, the girls from my high-school class said, 'You were such a good student, and you chose to study Hebrew, of all things?' I told them that it doesn't matter what one studies, the main thing is to get ahead in life. With us, teaching is the usual thing, and the Druze do not have this viewpoint that if you hate the Jews you also hate the language. Those around me serve in the security forces - my brother and my father, too - and we identify with the state."
Hiasham Abu Ria, 24, from Sakhnin, says he decided to enroll in Hebrew language studies "because when I was a little boy I used to watch my siblings writing Hebrew and I would copy them, scribbling Hebrew letters without understanding what I was writing. We are 14 brothers and sisters. I heard my father, who was a contractor, speaking Hebrew with my brothers and I always asked them what they were saying. When I visited my friends, we would try to hold a dialogue in Hebrew based on what we learned at school, and I tried to show off by using words I heard from my siblings and my father, as though to show them that I knew more words."
After high school, Abu Ria turned the Hebrew words he had collected to practical use and entered the Hebrew Language Department at
Beyond abstract ideology, Hebrew is an instrument for integrating into the society that lies beyond the village and the tradition. It was, though, not an easy road. "I was the first and only Arab at
In the dynamics of life, Abu Ria says, from the viewpoint of a modern young Arab, Hebrew has inched its way into the daily routine naturally and almost without anyone noticing. "We integrate Hebrew words into the family and societal discourse," he says. "The language has already taken us over. For example, it's hard for me to write numbers in Arabic, and we are all like that. One day this week, my brothers-in-law and I met and decided not to use Hebrew words anymore - but we couldn't do it. You want to say something in Arabic but you have forgotten the word, and instead you use a Hebrew word. It's the dynamics of life. On the other hand, I know people who do not allow their children to speak Hebrew. I was visiting someone, and he shouted at his son, 'Don't speak Hebrew in my house.' It really is a little like sleeping with the enemy."
And what do you say to them?
"I tell them that we live in a democracy and that without Hebrew we would not be able to get along in life. If you go abroad and don't know English, you can't get along, so understand that here it's the same, I tell them. And besides, this is your country, where you live, so give it the language, at least, and respect it. This is our country and our language." Abu Ria has gone very far in terms of his respect for the country as a Muslim Arab. Two years ago he volunteered for army service and took an officers course. He is currently a mobilization officer in the Bedouin sector. "I am very pleased with my job. In another six months I will enter the career army, and I see myself having a military career," he says.
What do people in Sakhnin think about all this?
"It's [a matter of] their politics, their understanding. Some are in favor, others against, everyone according to the movement he belongs to. I go to those people and talk to them personally. I will give a million shekels to any of them who will move to an Arab state, and if he lasts five days there I will join him."
Ta'ir Kizel, from Maghar, took advantage of his ethnic origins to write a thesis on translations of the Bible from Arabic written in Hebrew script. "I examined ancient texts from the Cairo Geniza, which were brought from
Language of the majority
Dr. Amal Jamal, from the
But language is also national identity, and if Hebrew is penetrating the Arab discourse, maybe in another generation or two it will completely dominate the Arab street.
"That is unlikely to happen. Hebrew is the language of the majority and of the strong, and there is always a tendency to imitate those who have power. It is a type of false consciousness, a case of internalizing the suppression: people identify themselves with the strong side in order to achieve self-empowerment. Besides that, among the young generation, Hebrew is identified with modernity, it is part of being 'in.' There is a trend of speaking Hebrew slang, but that does not mean they have adopted the Hebrew culture in the deep sense. The average Arab does not read Hebrew novels - who among them has read Amos Oz or A.B. Yehoshua? A tiny fraction of the elite. The majority identify with the Arab culture that is beyond the country's borders, not with Hebrew culture. They watch the Lebanese version of 'American Idol.' The Arab world media resolved the language problem for the Arabs. What you see is that the 'in' trend of speaking Hebrew has now spawned a counter-trend. There are a few organizations that are out to preserve Arabic, and they are fighting those who integrate Hebrew words, and fining them."
Mohammed Yezbak is not deterred. He makes his living as a worker in Oranim Bakery, located in Kibbutz Kfar Hahoresh, in