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Palestinian-Israeli conflict turns linguistic
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  • 02:06 29 June 2014
Palestinian-Israeli conflict turns linguistic
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By Jamal Sweid

"Land, akin to language, is inherited," Mahmoud Darwish once said. In the occupied territories, however, language is pillaged, appropriated, violated, and surrounded by barbed wire, just like the land.

In Haifa, under the policy of increasingly exploiting interconnected events to cover up dangerous plans, the Israeli Ministry of Education recently struck a blow to Palestinians living in occupied Palestine. The ministry announced a decision to stop teaching Arabic grammar in preparatory and secondary schools. The alternative was what the ministry called "functional principles in teaching grammar," which it claimed will allow students to comprehend the functions of grammar, based on understanding a text.

The decision provoked widespread concern and calls for its rejection. However, the ministry stuck to its position and issued a statement explaining its decision. It maintained that it aimed at "bridging the gap between the language and its speakers in the era of technology and outburst of information."

Palestinians of all segments, including teachers and parents, expressed rejection of the decision to Al-Akhbar as “a disguised attempt to tear away students from their language, and thus their belonging and cause.” They called for the widest protests possible to force the ministry to repeal the decision, which has been approved by the authorities.

The decision comes as students and graduates in occupied Palestine are facing a clear weakness in grammar and conjugation. According to experts, this deficiency is higher than in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. It requires enhancing the grammar curriculum to help the students, instead of its removal and replacement under the guise of "advancement and the technological gap." Several experts told Al-Akhbar that the technological gap claimed by Israel will not be solved by cancelling the curriculum, but by its modernization.

"In this situation, we need to look for ways to strengthen student bonds to their language and its rules," explained Murad Ali, an Arabic teacher from Acre. "Students are already facing difficulties in grammar, although it is taught in the curriculum. What will be the case when it gets cancelled?" In a few years, high school graduates in the 1948 territories will be unable to formulate a proper sentence.

This prediction, however, had been a reality for years, according to other experts. Their evidence is based on the fact that many graduates lack the most basic command of Arabic and commit several errors, which is inappropriate at their educational level.

Ibrahim Shehade, a retired school principal from Acre, said that students welcomed the ministry's decision. "For them, Arabic grammar is one of the most difficult subjects of the language curriculum. But they do not understand the future risks," he explained to Al-Akhbar. "Grades in literature and expression subjects are relatively high, compared to grammar. Some students believe that by removing grammar, they will improve their grade average."

Samer Khoury, from Shafa Amr, agreed, saying "grammar is the graveyard of grades," explaining that he received a low score in Arabic because of grammar.

Yet, the students are not completely comfortable with the decision. Some believe that it targets their language and bonds. Despite the difficulty of learning grammar and conjugation, they are willing to find alternatives to improve their proficiency, "without touching our language."

In the Israeli Knesset, Arab politicians and MPs are yet to take up the question because of the weight of other issues. However, Arab Knesset member from the Democratic Front and the Communist Party, Mohammed Baraka, spoke about the decision in the press. After mentioning the questions of land, housing, and health, he said he will be focusing more on the issue of grammar.

The more direct position was taken by Knesset member from the United Arab List, Masoud Ghanayem, who called for a hearing on the issue. He received a reply from the minister of education stating that "the decision does not mean abandoning the teaching of Arabic grammar, but its enhancement."

"The new curriculum was created by Arab supervisors and academics, in cooperation with the Arabic Language Academy in Haifa," the minister added. His statement shed light on a sensitive issue. Most teachers who spoke to Al-Akhbar maintained that it was false. But many refused to be named, "out of fear of the supervisors and higher authorities."

The boldest academic objection was made by Dr. Mohammed Khalil, a well-known Palestinian academic and one of the first people to warn about the decision. "The issue clearly aims to get schools to dispense of Arabic grammar books altogether, imposing a curriculum where grammar is taught at the spur of the moment," he exclaimed.

Khalil was not surprised about the "unjust decision of the [Israeli] authorities." However, he was dismayed by "the presence of Arab Palestinians in the committee, which agreed on the new curriculum." Several teachers who spoke to Al-Akhbar also mentioned the issue.

Ultimately, the decision will not be limited to the schools, in the midst of an Israeli campaign to replace the names of Palestinian landmarks with ones in Hebrew. In opposition, Palestinians are actively campaigning to promote the Arabic names and preserving them.

"But what kind of impact will this have if our sons and daughters are ignorant of the principles of their language and its lifeline?" asked Marwan Barieh, a university student studying the Arabic language. "Undermining a fundamental pillar of any language will lead to its total collapse. This applies to grammar and its relationship with the Arabic language in general."

Despite the angry reactions to the decision, language is being pillaged just like [Palestinian] land. The process reproduces itself in the same manner: statements and more statements are issued, then comes the implementation of the appropriation and each party reverts to its original position. They might declare a position to outmaneuver the others, but the loss of land and language is unlike any other loss.