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I am finally doing what I should have done long ago
l am learning Arabic.

I have been studying in a course for about half a year now and let me tell you – it is empowering.


Firstly, if you know Hebrew, it is certainly a step up in learning its sister Semitic tongue.
Arabic, like other Semitic languages, was influenced by the earlier Hebrew.

When Arabs realize that I can address them in their own language, it really makes them pause and wonder who is that person before them? You get “some respect.” Looks like an Ashkenazi Jew, even a tourist but… how, where, why…who is he?

You can imagine the possibilities…

Some weeks ago for the first time, I took my Arabic outside the class room  to the “Machane Yehuda” outdoor market in downtown Jerusalem. The colorful stalls are often manned by young boisterous Arab employees, yelling for the attention of the shopping crowd.

Most of these hawkers live in East Jerusalem or beyond and have little opportunity to really talk to Jew for more than a quick fruit or vegetable sale.

Well, I stopped at my favorite bread and pita stall, as I normally do, and I asked for bread, in his language, Needless to say he was surprised. I actually was able to get out a couple of short sentences and he was convinced. He glanced at his fellow employee with a look that said, “Who is he”?
So he asked me, “Where are you from”? I answered “from the US”.

They were really puzzled now. I added, “but now I live here in Israel.” I asked him, and where are you from’? He answered very matter of factly, from here, Palestine”

I gave him an incredulous look and asked, “Where?” He repeated, “Palestine” I corrected him. We are in Israel. not Palestine.”.
He then corrected me. There is no Israel, just Palestine.”  I had to explain to him that there is in fact no such place as Palestine.
It is not mentioned in the Koran even once nor for that matter is Jerusalem mention in the Koran.
I think that they were not aware of this fact and my mention of their Koran made them rather upset. One of them had to be calmed down by a fellow worker.
I pointed out that “Palestine exists only in your head, no where else.”
Boy was I pleased with myself. I spread the truth in the language of denial.
The pita was extra tasty.

Then there was a short conversation I had the other day with a Muslim woman, scarf and all, which began with simple pleasantries on the train.
When was the last time a Jewish man–or any man– spoke to her on the train? Who was this stranger speaking her language?

She was happy to inform me that she lives in a village outside Jerusalem, Nakuba, and went on to add that her family originally comes from a different village, Tzuba. I said, “yes I know that place. It is a kibbutz today. From that village on the hill, the Arabs shot down on Jewish transportation coming and going to Jerusalem, strangling the city.” Therefore I reminded her, the Arab militia and the residents had to be expelled.
Well, she didn’t expect a tough love history lesson and the niceties were gone. So was my Arabic.

But we were talking, in Hebrew, which was interesting.

She said how would you feel if someone took YOUR house?”
I had to explain to her the very basics of how this “conflict’ arose.
She had no patience for facts. She said,”you shot on us, not WE on you’!
Now, this is not an illiterate worker in the market. She is an educated student from our best Israeli schools.

Yet, her “narrative” is stronger than facts and fae more resilient than higher education, logic, or any benefits the Jewish state can bestow upon her.

A great man once said that, a “dumb, illiterate Arab is far less dangerous to Israel than a smart educated one – especially the ones that WE educate.”

That man was pretty smart.

I can say that in Arabic.


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Shalom Pollack, a veteran Israeli tour guide, served in the Israeli Navy and lectures on the Mideast.