There’s always an interesting story to tell about Intensive Arabic Semester participants both during and after the Semester, but what about their teachers?
Yisrael Ne’eman is a historian specialising in Middle East conflict, Jewish history, and Israel. A lecturer at the University of Haifa International School since 1991 and licensed national tour guide, Yisrael has also been teaching courses on the history and politics of the Middle East as well as Jewish history to IAS groups since the programme’s inception.
Yisrael has recently completed his first book, entitled Hamas Jihad: Antisemiticsm, Islamic World Conquest and Manipulation of Palestinian Nationalism. IAS 2016 participant, Natasha Pein, spoke with Yisrael to find out more about the book.
What is the main point that the book makes?
The rise of Islamic Jihadism is posing an ever greater threat to Israel and the West. Through an analysis of the Hamas Covenant, Palestinian National Charter, and the Koran, the book shows that there is “a non-violent solution to...stop the acts of terrorism carried out across the planet.”
What is the proposed solution?
The answer to a peaceful solution “lies in the Koran itself”. The Koran states: “If we abrogate (nullify) any verse or cause it is to be forgotten, we will replace it by a better one or one similar” (2:106). From this comes the idea of “reverse abrogation”. The Koran contains verses which express negative attitudes towards Jews as well as those which express positive attitudes. With textual support, Islamic leaders and jurists are able to make religious judgements. The idea is that these leaders and jurists can interpret Koranic clause 2:106 to promote a path for Islam that is based on peace and coexistence. In the past, “Islamic jurists nullified positive, peaceful comments about and towards others, demanding a universal Jihad for world conquest.” The solution put forward by the book is that this “same Islamic tool can be used today to nullify Jihad and the negative and discriminatory verses, while reinforcing positive statements and peaceful commentaries.”
How does this approach differ from others?
This approach recognises that the West “will not defeat Jihadi Islam by trying to impose secular liberal democratic understandings on Arab Muslims”. The book proposes a solution based on the Koran itself by showing that certain elements within the Koran are compatible with coexistence between Muslims and other groups. By using clause 2:106, clauses in support of such coexistence which were once abrogated, can now be brought to the forefront and emphasised.
By Anna Lamport, 2016
I participated in the 2016 Intensive Arabic Semester programme at Givat Haviva and would highly recommend the programme to anyone interested in studying Arabic though you will need to obtain your own medical and travel insurance. Over the course of five months, I learnt a mixture of Modern Standard Arabic (Fusha) as well as developing a deep understanding of local Ammiyya Arabic as it is spoken and used in the Wadi Ara area of Israel. I was also given exposure during the programme to the Bedouin, Egyptian, Syrian and Jordanian dialects. Attending the Intensive Arabic Semester programme is an amazing experience for the following four main reasons:
Firstly the programme director and the teaching staff promote a holistic approach to education and care for the well-being and development of course participants as unique individuals. This means that within the course framework, studying is bespoke and tailored to you. Personally my greatest challenge learning Arabic is pronunciation so I received extra speaking help. Beyond the classroom, whenever we wanted something like an extra heater or more bowls to eat out of, everyone at Givat Haviva was extremely generous and helpful. On International Women’s Day, I and the other female students received carnations and we were all often treated to motivational cakes and sweets.
Secondly, the programme includes fascinating trips around Israel, which enables participants to meet local Arab speakers and to practice their language skills in real-life situations with the support of their teachers. Within our first few weeks in Israel, our group visited the Arabic village of Ba’arta, where our teacher introduced us to a local shop keeper. He kindly invited us into his general goods store and then gave us all free coffee. Since we were lacking a sharp kitchen knife to cut vegetables, we asked (in Arabic) if we could buy one from him. In the manner of true Arab hospitality, the store keeper gave us a knife and refused to take any payment for it. Instead he told us that our first ‘purchase’ was a present and encouraged us to return to his store in the future. My favourite trip was to Northern Israel to meet a variety of minority communities including Circassians, Druzes, Arab Christians and Ahamadiyya Muslims. The rich diversity and harmonious co-existence of so many different faiths and ethnic communities were inspirational.
Even in weeks when no trip is planned, the variety of the programme ensures that studying at Givat Haviva is always a stimulating experience. Interspersed with Arabic grammar, vocabulary and speaking classes, there are classes in the history of the Middle East, Jewish Studies and Hebrew. I had very little background knowledge of Israel and Palestine and not a word of Hebrew at the beginning of the programme. Thanks to the excellent teaching staff of Givat Haviva, I learnt a lot and was pleased to find that these additional classes both complimented and enhanced my understanding of Arabic. For instance, in one memorable history of the Middle East class we learnt the origins of the words ‘Right’ ( Yameen) and ‘Left’ (Shamal) in Arabic, which come from the countries of Yemen and Eastern Africa as ships travelling up the Red Sea passed Yemen on their right side.
Part of the uniqueness of the Intensive Arabic Semester programme comes from its location on the Givat Haviva campus in Northern Israel, approximately an hour away from Tel Aviv. Nestled close to the large Arab cities of Umm al-Fahim and Baqa al-Gharbiya and also close to smaller Arab communities such as Zemer, Ara’Ara and Kafr Qari’a, Givat Haviva’s location means that students can practice their Arabic when shopping or going to nearby cafes and restaurants. Regularly, I would practice my Arabic with locals in everyday situations and always received a friendly response in spite of making many mistakes. These everyday experiences enabled me to achieve a deeper insight into Arab culture: what is typical food for each meal, how the sounds of cockerels crowing and calls to prayer from mosques punctuate communities and how different age groups dress. Jeans are as popular in Israel as they are in Europe in spite of the hotter weather! Givat Haviva is also very close to the kibbutzim of Ein Shemer, with its large avocado fields, and Ma’anit, which both have swimming pools and convenience stores for students to use.
Givat Haviva itself is a beautiful and tranquil campus and is well-known locally as a beacon of safety within Israel. It is sufficiently far from both the troubled Gaza border and the Northern borders of Israel with Lebanon and Syria to be largely untroubled by potential rockets; it is a safe place to focus on studying Arabic within the turbulent and often violent world of the Middle East. Whilst Givat Haviva is tranquil, it is also a bustling hive of constructive activity, which students on the Intensive Arabic Semester programme are able to explore. Among other interesting projects and buildings is the Moreshet Holocaust and Research Centre, where a special ceremony is held annually on Yom Ha’Shoah that I found very moving.
Overall, I had an awesome time on the Intensive Arabic Semester programme and hope that you will too!
By Dore Faith, Summer Course student at Givat Haviva 2016
This week I visited Zachariah Mahamid and his family in their home in Muawiya, an Arab town of about four thousand nestled in the small slopes west of Umm al-Fahm. Zachariah teaches citizenship and civics in the local high school, and we met as part of my Arabic studies at Givat Haviva, where he directs Jewish-Arab coexistence programs throughout the year.
After I was greeted by Zachariah’s family with abundant candies and fruits, his eight-year old son enjoyed learning the English words of several animals. Pointing at their pictures, we came up with tricks to remember their names — dob ends in B, which is the first letter of its meaning, bear; nimr and tiger each end with an “–er” sound; qitt and cat have more or less the same consonants, just with a different internal vowel. I spent the rest of the evening chatting in Arabic and Hebrew with Zachariah and his wife, Laila, and their kids.
We discussed children’s movies and television, and also some politics, while sitting on his roof and watching the sun set over the town’s olive groves.
I returned home later that evening well-fed, eager to tell my friends about Zachariah and Laila’s demonstration of local hospitality.
IAS Student, Teacher and Lover of Semitic Languages, Elena, Reflects on her IAS experience
Very frequently IAS students, expecting to come study for one semester, find themselves brought into the Givat Haviva fold for much longer. The connections made on the semester with other students, teachers, host families and the surrounding environment often prove to be longstanding. Director Meirav Hofi’s kibbutz home often feels like Grand Central Station, with alumni frequently dropping by—either having stayed in Israel or having returned to further their adventures and understanding of this fascinating and complicated country.
One such story is that of Elena (not to be confused with IAS English Liason, Elana, whose own story was previously featured on this blog), a former IAS student who returned to IAS after her semester in order to assist student’s study time and teach Modern Standard Arabic.
Elena, who completed a Bachelors Degree in Arabic Literature and a Masters in Israeli Literature in her native Russia, and was working on her PhD in Arabic Literature during her IAS semester, came to Givat Haviva with an impressive knowledge of both Semitic languages. Her knowledge of Fusha was one of the most extensive longtime teacher Meirav had encountered. Her knowledge of spoken Arabic, however, was extremely limited.
Elena explains that the “breaking point” in deciding to improve her speaking/listening skills came after conversing with a visiting Palestinian professor. During their meeting she was barely able to understand what he was saying, despite that they had previously conversed extensively via email without any comprehension problems.
Having participated in two IAS semesters, Elena returned to Israel this fall to complete a degree in Consecutive and Simultaneous Translation at Bar Ilan University. Though she previously worked in written translation in Russia, the experience of simultaneous translation deepens her language experience, as it requires a very different set of skills such as fast reaction, good short-term memory, and concentration.
Asked about her experience of IAS, Elena explains it as “a total immersion into an international community…For me living in Givat Haviva was living with foreigners…and it was a great experience, I learned so much from people I studied with. I could see and feel how complex and multifaceted this place is, you can live here your whole life and never get bored. It’s fantastic.” Expanding further as to why she returned to teach, she says, “I think I just fell in love with the place [Givat Haviva] and its atmosphere, I feel like it attracts very special people and I wanted to experience and learn from it one more time.”
Returning as a teacher also provided new insight into the goings on of IAS, “I could see with my own eyes how much work Meirav and Galit [Director of IAS and of Givat Haviva’s Arabic department, respectively] put into the project, and also how flexible and dynamic it is, always evolving, expanding, open to the needs and desires of those who take part in it.”
Ultimately IAS was one stop in Elena’s long journey with languages. From her point of view, “The more languages you learn, the more lives you get to live.” The experience, however, was a defining one in that it “helped me connect to myself and discover my goals in life, it helped me see my passion for languages and a need to evolve it.” Certainly Elena’s enthusiasm also had a profound effect on the students she taught during last year’s programming!
After finishing the 2014 IAS and moving back to her hometown of Detroit, alumna Lindsay Acker took it upon herself to get to re-know the city, which she had been away from for several years. Immersing herself in the Jewish community where she grew up and starting to understand the landscape of interfaith relations, Lindsay also began to get to know the Detroit metro area’s Arab and Muslim community, one of the United State’s oldest, largest and most diverse. Lindsay, who came out of IAS program with full professional fluency of the Palestinian dialogue, was a surprising figure in the Arab community, there are few activate interfaith initiatives between Jews and Muslims in the area, and even fewer Jews who speak fluent Arabic! Through getting to know the community, Lindsay has even picked up knowledge of Lebanese and Syrian dialects; quite a setting to jump into after spending half a year really getting to know the language.
As her exploration of the two communities continued, Lindsay saw the importance of building bridges and starting conversation—especially in the context of a renewing Detroit, a city that is going through major transformation in many aspects. When Lindsay met Tarik, a Palestinian from Gaza and a fellow musician, the two instantly connected. Soon, after meeting several times over Jam sessions and shisha, a new interfaith group, Muslim-Jewish Forum of Detroit was born.
The group, now about half a year old, defines themselves as “an interfaith community of young, determined, and idealistic Muslims and Jews from, or living, in the Detroit area. We are a group intent on creating change and promoting understanding between our two communities and serving our city of Detroit through local service and educational initiatives.” In the last months, the group has participated in volunteer work with other local organizations doing social justice and community work as well as hosted several of their own events. The largest gathering to date was an interfaith Passover Seder, attended by young about 25 Detroiters. At the Seder, a first for many of the attendants, the group discussed the Passover story and shared different perspectives. The Forum is currently in development and growth phase, building their visionary and leadership board as well as new projects and initiatives. This month they will be hosting their first book club, hosting a dialogue on David Eggers Zeitoun. For more info and to get involved check out the Forum’s Facebook.
This semester, one IAS participant, Roman Dagesh, a certified swim coach with 14 years of experience as an international competitive swimmer has expanded his program experience by offering weekly swim lessons in Umm Al-Fahem. The students, ages 6-12, are taught basic swimming skills from bubbles and breathing to breath strokes and, most importantly, how to feel comfortable in the water—with the hope of preventing panic near deep water or at the sea.
Dagesh who grew up in Israel, was born to an Arab-Israeli father and Ukrainian mother, but did not grow up hearing or speaking Arabic at home. Through a former IAS participant, Dina, who he coached, Roman learned of the program and decided to take up study of his father’s mother tongue.
Partnering with Givat Haviva and Al Wahaa pool, Umm al Fahem’s first sports complex and recreation center, Roman teaches subsidized lessons to 3 groups of 6 swimmers every week. Each group has 10 lessons, with a total of about 100 children participating over the course of the project.
Envisioning the project, which he titled “Swim Against the Tide,” and his time in Wadi Ara, Roman hoped to address the scarcity of organized sports program in Arab-Israeli communities. This lack is especially seen with swimming, a missing skill that has lead to a disproportionate number of drowning accidents in the Arab-Israeli community. In working with the students and communicating with their parents (there was a special ceremony held for all participants and organizers several weeks ago), Roman has stressed the possibilities which swimming offers—becoming a part of a communities of athletes, cross-cultural exchange and opportunities like university scholarships.
This project, like the experience of language learning (especially a language as foreign to most of our students as Arabic), has not always been easy. Though Roman is not a stranger to Arab culture, having grown up with family in the Galilee, he was not entirely prepared for some of the challenges of the unknown. Al Wahaa’s pool culture is very different than that which Roman is used to. As is teaching when there is a large language barrier—discipline can be a difficult, which is of course extra nerve racking in a pool environment. Despite the challenges however, Roman has found the experience eye opening and complementary to the IAS experience. “It’s being a real immersive experience, which is unmediated, seeing a glimpse of Arab society, which is different than an organized trip [or even spending time with host families, who are of course making an active choice to connect with the foreigners who participate in IAS].” To read more about the program in Arabic (!), click here!
As part of IAS, all students receive two host families—one Arab from a nearby village, and one Jewish from a local Kibbutz. Students repeatedly describe their families as one of the highlights of the program. Unsurprisingly, family time is a profound experience for the hosts as well. Last semester this was especially true for student Miguels Barro’s families who had a much more expansive experience than they had imagined when joining the program. (And if you haven’t already, read about Miguel’s theater project in Baqa here!)
Ori and Adva, residents of Kibbutz Ein Shemer initially enrolled as a host family after their oldest son, Gali, read about the program in the kibbutz newspaper, thinking it would be a good way to improve his English and as a way for their other kids to meet someone from another culture. Ultimately, it proved much richer then they imagined: “It was a major experience for us as well, not just the kids, to teach him Hebrew and to learn Arabic. And learn about Portuguese. To have a guest for a long time, to consider other person’s needs, Miguel really took part of our family in this time. Things like helping Gali with homework and more.” Miguel truly became a part of the family, from smaller habits like changing dinner time to accommodate his schedule or teaching him their Shabbat traditions, to taking a Saturday day trip to Haifa when Miguel needed transportation help and making a stopover at the beach—something out of the ordinary for the family.
As Adva explains, “For our family it was meaningful, it brought us closer together. Opening the house, the various activities—Gali even did a school project on Portugal, becoming a part of our family in everyway. Before Miguel was here, I was afraid of a strange person in my house, but when it happened all the fears went away. Letting someone else be part of your family is an extreme psychological experience. He become a part of the family, he became part of our heart.”
Even more exciting, given the Israeli-Palestinian conflict orientation of the Intensive Arabic Semester, was Adva’s request part way through the semester to meet Miguel’s “other” family in Baqa, which she felt strongly would make the entire experience more meaningful, despite that it was initially scary for her to visit Baqa. During the second Intifada, Adva had had Molotov cocktails throw at her while driving near another Wadi Ara village, an event which obviously had lasting impact on her pysche.
Ori explained that this meeting was particularly important for the kids, “The meaning of this relationship is for [them], when you know the other side in a personal way, it doesn’t seem that big. To know he is a whole person, he is one of a group. And they are such an amazing family, nice and welcome. [It gave them] an idea, not just what’s seen on the news.”
Adva agrees about the significance of the exchange, adding: “It is important to see that we are people, they are people. The children see that they are people. [It is] something we can do to bring people together, to know that there are more similarities than disagreements, motherhood or parenting is something we share. That’s more bonding than any identity issue. It’s a small step when you do it with one family, they see a Jewish family and also we an Arab family, they see it’s not ‘the Israelis’ or ‘the Jewish family,’ they know our names. This is the real changing—you can know what the other people do. They want we want for our children. The project happens when they come to see the Jewish/Arab house. It changes everything. Maybe this is the real peace. To see the other in his house.”
Alumni Profile: Meg and Dan Price talk about IAS and their current work with Syrian refugees in Jordan
Dan and Meg Price, alumni of the 2012 Intensive Arabic Semester, are an outstanding and inspirational example of the amazing ways in which students leave IAS prepared to work in the Arab world.
The American couple currently spends most of their time living and working in Madaba, Jordan, using Arabic in their everyday life working with Syrian refugees. Their work, which occurs in conjunction with 2 local churches and U.S. donations, centers on helping refugees—who often arrive in Jordan with just the clothes on their backs—with their most basic needs, like food and medicine. This work is extremely needed, especially in light of recent announcements that the United Nations will be cutting its aid to Syrian refugees after promised member state funding has failed to materialize. The direness of the situation is felt even in Jordan, where cities like Madaba now have populations which are 20% refugees.
Furthermore, because of bureaucratic complications in refugee status, Meg and Dan’s work offers help to those without other avenues. The couple explains, for example, that refugees who are born in Syria, but who perhaps come from Palestinian or Jordanian backgrounds (but have long been residents and citizens of Syria and are often married to Syrians) are not eligible for United Nations or Jordanian NGO aid, thus making the church aid even more crucial.
It was in preparation for this ministry work that the couple came to IAS, knowing that speaking the language would be an essential part of doing their work well. After looking at 2 other programs in Amman, they settled on IAS because it “offered beginning Arabic and a good place to start. IAS had a well-rounded way of teaching Arabic, and we wanted a whole experience. And in the end we appreciated the holistic approach to language. It wasn’t just language, we were involved in the community.”
The effect of their time in Baqa is certainly clear when Dan and Meg speak about their daily work. The couple spends much of their day making house calls—checking in and doing evaluations to determine how they can help particular families. Their food deliveries always include coffee or tea, which allows for traditional Arab hosting, where drinks are always served to visitors. A comfortable visit is another essential factor, as, in addition to their evaluations, the couple explains that much of their work is about listening, “The value of being a listening, sympathetic ear is enormous. It helps them; we’re not trained counselors or psychiatrists, but it lightens their load in someway, just by allowing them to talk.” This, they explain, makes their language skills that much more important, “What we do would be impossible without Arabic. You make connections with people by speaking the language. You can have translators but that doesn’t enable us to make connections directly with the people.”
Ultimately, Dan and Meg really credit IAS with providing their first foray into the Arab world, “[Our] time spent in Baqa was very valuable for teaching us the mindset of Arabs. [There is even] a big difference when you leave the Jewish part of Israel and go into an Arab part, and the program gets you into the Arab culture. It helps you understand the culture. Everything together provided a wonderfully-rounded program, which gave us a lot of insight (including from the Israeli standpoint) into the greater Middle East. IAS is the only program that provides language and geopolitical and cultural instruction. You’re involved in a conflict where you’re learning both sides, which is beneficial. In the West, everyone thinks there’s only one kind of Arab, and that’s a terrorist. But of course people in the Arab world are just like everyone else; they just want their kids to have a better life than they have.”
IAS English Liaison, Elana, shares her experience in and around the Givat Haviva environment
In addition to Living Arabic’s Intensive Arabic Semester, our programing offers students the ability to study Arabic in an individualized, personally tailored manner, which includes activities and lessons students can choose from. Individual tracks can also be arranged through the I-Track program, which places students in a larger network of program participants in Israel. Here, Elana, who privately studied spoken Arabic with Program Director Meriav Hofi for several months and currently works as English Liaison for Living Arabic, shares her experience being a part of the Arabic at Givat Haviva network and environment.
My interest in Arabic study started as a senior at Bates College in Maine, after I returned from a semester abroad in Uruguay. Having connected very deeply with the experience of language learning there, I set my sights on new language acquisition. As a Religious Studies major, with a focus on Islam and interest in geopolitics as well as interfaith work, Arabic study was a natural choice. When I learned about IAS at a JStreet conference in 2012, I was extremely excited to find such a program which focused on spoken Arabic and also offered a chance to have a first hand learning about the Israeli-Palestinian occupation and conflict.
Planning on attending the program in Fall of 2013, I set out for some travels in Europe in the summer, a few weeks before the program was to start, while I was many thousands of mile away from home, the fall semester was cancelled. Scrambling to find an alternative for study, I stayed in contact with IAS staff and after weighing options, decided to come study one-on-one with Meirav for a month before attending another program for Arabic study in Jerusalem. After two weeks of study and time spent traveling around the Wadi Ara area, seeing sights, meeting people and starting to form personal relationships, I decided to continue my stay for another 3 months—the period I had intended to study for in Jerusalem.
In those first few weeks, with the guidance and support of Meirav, who not only served as my tutor, but welcomed me into her life, inviting me to join her family for holidays and meals and introduced me to many people in the area (both Arabs and Jews) I had a taste of the kind of possibility for personal relationships I could develop if I stayed in Wadi Ara. While the program cancellation initially came as a shock, in the end it actually developed into an enormous gift. Through introductions Meirav—my only initial contact—made, I developed relationships with people that have ultimately changed my life; having initially planned on being in Israel for only a few months, I have now been here for more than a year.
I am now working as an English Instructor at al-Qaesmi College in Baqa al-Garbiyye , the third largest Arab city in Israel and the home of most IAS Arab host families, work I found through a very dear friend, actually the first person Meirav introduced me to, from Baqa
In addition to connecting me with Palestinian-Israelis, Meirav also opened my eyes to a new possibility of living. Over the last year I’ve had the privilege of living in a a geodesic dome in a beautiful garden home (picture above) Meirav’s daughter designed and built on their Kibbutz. This home is close to nature and has taught me a great deal about living sustainably and close to the earth, a born and raised New York City Girl, I now live with a compost toilet and a semi-outdoor living room.
Throughout my time here, I have been warmly welcomed by nearly everyone I have met, truly gaining a new family and incredible support system. I’ve been taken under the wing of both Israeli Jews and Palestinian’s living in Israel and learned so much about Israeli culture and society, gaining new insight into its conflicts and difficulties. Through seeing many different corners of Israeli and Palestinian life, I deeply grappled with sometimes-impossible feeling paradoxes and gained nuance in my political views and ways of listening and speaking to those around me. Though I initially came to learn Arabic, my journey has been about so much more than language, over the last year in Israel, I have experienced enormous personal growth, developing incredible relationships as well as new and old passions. I have earnestly, in all of the cliché ways, found myself in profound ways.
2013 participant, Alyson, shares some words about her time at Givat Haviva.
As a participant in the Intensive Arabic Semester program, provided by Givat Haviva, I was given the opportunity to experience the time of my life. Not only did I learn to push myself academically to the highest levels possible, but also, due to the other participants and the teachers I was consistently provided with the incentive to fully comprehend and understand the Arabic language while using the very productive and fun methods that were implemented by the program. More recently, as a Masters student in Middle Eastern Studies at Tel Aviv University, I continue to study this region of the world while simultaneously improving my language skills, initially taught by Givat Haviva. Through recurring trips to Israeli Arab villages and various places in the West Bank, I continue to utilize my skills in both the Arabic and Hebrew language, while furthering my education and understanding of Israel's citizens and the conflict in which they live in on an everyday basis. I am very thankful for everything Givat Haviva has taught me, as I would not have been offered the position of “Intelligence Analyst” for The Levantine Group, without the skills I acquired through the Intensive Arabic Semester. In working with The Levantine Group, I have the opportunity to do what I love every day, that is, to apply my knowledge of the Middle East and my Arabic language skills in order to analyze the current events taking place in this region on a daily basis. I look forward to pursuing my career in this field in accordance to the very foundations Givat Haviva has instilled in our hearts: peace and equality for everyone.