Monday, January 11, 2010

Arab Writers Set To Fight The Influence Of Hebrew

Apparently, these Arab writers mean business:
The Arab Writers Union formed a Damascus bureau meant to prevent the infiltration of Hebrew terms into Arab culture, Israel Radio reported on Sunday, adding that the new group said it would prevent the "normalization" of cultural ties with Israel.

Hussein Jumaa, the head of the AWU, said that the formation of the new bureau was meant to curb the influence of Israeli culture on the Arab world.

The fact that Arab media outlets interview "Zionist politicians and researchers," Hussein said, "could lead to the coming generations in the Arab world to know [more] about Zionist intellectuals and writers than they do about Arab men of letters."
But why is the threat Hebrew seen as an attack on Arab culture in general, when by virtue of proximity it would seem to make sense to see the primary victims as being Israeli Arabs?

This is especially strange, seeing as how the battle between Hebrew and Arab culture has already begun!

Back in May 2008, an article in The Forward addressed Israeli Arabs and Hebrew. The author of the article, Philologos, notes that the infiltration of Hebrew is already underway:
What are the Hebrew words that creep most commonly into the speech of Israeli Arabs? They seem to divide between everyday expressions of social intercourse on the one hand, and words for things or situations that are associated by Arabs with Israeli culture on the other. Haaretz lists some words that belong to the second category, such as ramzor (traffic light), mah.som (checkpoint), g’lidah (ice cream), lah.maniyah (bakery roll) and sulamit (the hash sign on telephone dials). Belonging to the first category are words like b’seder (all right, okay), b’vakasha (please) and me’anyen (interesting).
The infiltration of the Hebrew word for 'interesting' is itself worthy of note, if for no other reason than there being no Arabic equivalent:
Is this just a linguistic oddity, or is it indicative of a deeper feature of Arab culture — the absence, perhaps, of the very concept of “interesting” that is so basic to the Western mind, since what isn’t unusual enough or noteworthy enough to arouse curiosity is not considered worthy of attention?
Not surprisingly, Philologos addresses the same concerns that are raised by the Arab Writers Union:
Is increased code switching to Hebrew among Israeli Arabs a first harbinger of what may one day become their wholesale adoption of Hebrew as their native language? Although it may seem remote at the present moment, it is not inconceivable that, if Arabic-Hebrew code switching continues to grow, such a development could start to take place a generation or two from now — at first among the best-educated and most integrated Israeli Arabs, and subsequently, among the Israeli Arab population as a whole. This has happened over and over with minority groups in the course of history, and although there are strong forces working against it in this particular case (for example, Israeli-Arab enmity, the universality of Arabic in all the countries bordering on Israel, the special connection between Arabic and Islam, etc.), it is not something that can be totally ruled out. It will be very interesting —me’anyen k’tir — to see how things stand when Israel has its 120th birthday 60 years from now.[emphasis added]
Enmity alone may not be enough to counter the insidious penetration of Hebrew. As David Hazony notes:
Isn’t it a little odd that they [Israeli Arabs] observe the naqba on the same day that Israel celebrates its independence? What I mean is, Israel celebrates the fifth of Iyyar, which corresponds to May 14, 1948, on the Jewish calendar. Americans, by contrast, tend to observe May 14. Given the choice between the Muslim, Western, and Jewish calendars, why would Israeli Arabs pick the last of the three?
Those Arab writers have their work cut out for them.

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