4th Plenary Session: Exclusion and Accessibility in light of Social and Technological Advances
Moderator: Prof. Daphna Hacker, Law Faculty and Women and Gender Studies Program, Tel Aviv University;
Dr. Yonatan Mendel, Head of “Manarat”: The Van Leer Center for Jewish-Arab Relations;
Michal Avera Samuel, Executive Director, Fidel – Association for Education and Social Integration of Ethiopian Jews in Israel;
Dr. Yonatan Mendel:
When talking about shared space in mixed cities, the issue of language is pushed aside. In the past Languages were studied diachronically – how languages evolved from each other. Today there are other approaches. We believe that language doesn’t exclusively explain the past but helps us understand the present. A language doesn’t only reflect reality, but helps shape it.
My choices, like my choice of words and conjunctions, can teach a lot about me, you and our interaction. The state of Israel has clear borders and a clear language policy. These mold our perception of the place we live in, of ourselves and of the other.
Research about language and identity and about language and the conflict are gaining momentum. Everyone can understand how significant language is for understanding our social and political reality. A few examples, which will help me demonstrate the strong connection between language and society and language and identity, will follow: the language struggle in the Technion (Haifa University) at the beginning of the 20th century and the decision to teach in Hebrew there and at the Reali School. An example overseas was when riots broke out in South Africa over the decree to teach in Afrikaans in schools for Black children.
I argue that in future, we will have to relate to the dimension of language in every conversation we have about Israel and Jerusalem.
This is a “Language policy”: an effort to understand how states determine and regulate the relationships between languages; the official state language is, what was declared in the Declaration of Independence about languages, the languages used for road signs, the teaching language, the foreign languages taught and the teaching methods. The research teaches us about the gap between official declarations and the reality on the ground.
In countries with many official languages it is constitutionally regulated and each country has its own interpretation of an official language. In Israel, Arabic as an official language is leanly interpreted, especially when compared to the status of the English language. (The academy requires knowledge of English and not of Arabic, although Arabic is an official language). Arabic was the language many Jewish immigrants spoke, but it is still considered a foreign language. In schools it is considered “second foreign language”, and so when talking about the relations between Jews and Arabs, we must mention the special status of colloquial Arabic in Israel.
In Canada there are 2 official languages: French and English. Every official representative must know how to read, write and understand both these languages. In Israel, Arabic has low cultural capital, it is the “enemy’s language”, a language with no cultural value. Most Israelis don’t know Arabic and those who do, are those who belong to mechanisms of separation like the intelligence.
Linguistic Landscape: Today we will discuss a subject that stems out of “language policy”: a study field that has been developing over the last 20 years. It is about understanding our linguistic area, the linguistic landscape surrounding us like road signs and the written messages in window shops. In this research language is a theme, an element. This area encompasses two important meanings which are not necessarily alike.
- The significance of information: marking of territory (“this is Tel Aviv”). In the study you can communicate through the sign what Jerusalem this is, according to which border? Which population?
- The symbolic significance: If a cigarette is drawn on a sign with an X on it and with a Hebrew caption “Smoking is forbidden”, it is clear that the message is universally understood, even by those who don’t understand Hebrew, but the absence of Arabic from the sign is a message of exclusion of the Arabic speaker. Another example: Writing Arabic on signs correctly, with no spelling mistake is a way to signal positive message to a whole population with which we are in conflict.
Presentation Samples of road signs and texts from, different eras
The British Mandate era – We can see that the name was first written in English in the middle. The Arabic is on the right and it is clear it is next in place to the English (as Hebrew as well is written from the right) and the Hebrew is on the Left, in the third place. In the other sign the Arabic is punctuated and illustrated. Most probably whoever made it is an Arab person, Arabic speaker.
1948-1967 – A sign from the old City in Jerusalem. On the top there is a sign in Arabic and English below. In most of the places Israel changed the signs after 1967 and put the Hebrew on the top, with Arabic beneath it and English at the bottom. The Hebrew is punctuated. Whoever wrote it is a native Hebrew speaker.
70s and on – On the pre-1970 sign, the English transliterates the Arabic, but in the signs from the 70s, the English transliterates the Hebrew. In another sign, the Arabic is deleted and this expresses the symbolic element I mentioned earlier.
Another sign reveals carelessness in the Arabic punctuation. It is clear that it was written by a Hebrew speaker, as the number 1 was used instead of the Arabic vowel that should be there, something that writer wouldn’t dare to do in Hebrew. This sign points to a particular attitude towards the Arabic language.
There is a phenomenon of writing (transliterating) the name “Jerusalem” in Arabic, even though the city’s name in Arabic is al-Quds.
In conclusion, when we are talking about mixed cities, we have to talk about language; what languages exist and what appears on signs. This is related to decisions regarding who to commemorate on signs: if you allow historic Hebrew figures, you should allow Arab historic figures as well. Currently there are difficulties in application of this policy. Umm Kalthum was approved for commemoration but streets in East Jerusalem are named with insignificant names: Rose, Lily, and Olive Street. Whereas on the west side of the city, the streets have names with ideological significance, the names on the east side of the city lack it.
I argue that until Al-Quds is equivalent to Jerusalem on the signs, you can’t talk about a mixed city.
Question: What should be the policy when a place has different names in Arabic and in Hebrew?
Answer: I believe the Arabic name should be presented. Many of the maps we are using are aimed at Hebraizing our landscape and obliterating its source. The Hebrew name is not connected to the Arab one. Sometimes a biblical name which isn’t connected to the place is determined. Therefore I think that if the Arab name is different, it should appear in Arabic. It can’t be that the Arab residents will call it by one name and the name on the sign is different. This signals separation and exclusion of the residents. Signage can’t be decided by one side exclusively. In the city’s naming committee there are fifteen Jewish members. I claim that in a mixed city the committee should be shared. The person writing the name in Arabic must be an Arabic speaker.
Question: Do you see differences in these policies and patterns in the rest of the mixed cities?
Answer: There is a need for a comparative study, but I do know that in Akko for instance there was a decision to mention the Arab name of the port alongside the Hebrew one. It is difficult to believe that in Jerusalem this would have been possible.
Michal Avera Samuel
My story is an example of integration and absorption of people of Ethiopian origin in Israel. I immigrated to Israel when I was nine as part of “Operation Moshe” at the end of 1984 and we moved from one absorption center to another. I went through 3 boarding schools, all religious. It was the establishment’s decision to put the children of Ethiopian immigrants through the religious education system. The Israelis I socialized with were problematic youth, like the “Raful Youth” who populated the boarding schools at that time. Decisions were made for me without consulting with me or my family, such as in which boarding school to put me in and such as visiting my family only once in three weeks.
Fortunately it was a good boarding school and I graduated with a complete matriculation diploma in biology. The white girls, the “frangies”, studied from a very thick book which I later found out was preparation for the psychometric exams, but no one explained to me what it was, nor encouraged me to do the same.
I was in National Service and wanted to study at university but that was for the whites. A social worker explained to us that now we are going out to the big world, leaving the hot house of the boarding school, and therefore we should go to vocational training at Beit Rivka in Jerusalem.
At that stage I had a major crisis. Until the social worker’s talk, I was confident of my ability to reach far and succeed despite the complexities of our community, but suddenly I witnessed the expectation of the system from our community: what we are expected to do and where we are expected to be. I understood all the perceptions and preconceptions. Ours and the white girls’ achievements were identical, but they prepared for the psychometric exam and we went to vocational training.
It was a miserable decision to try and push us in that direction.
Our community has 140 thousand people. It is a small community which arrived in two major operations: “Operation Moshe” in the ‘80s and in “Operation Shlomo” in the ‘90s. It is mostly a young community and most are under 15. Only 15% are over fifty. Whenever people are talking about mixed cities they mention Arabs, Israelis, Haredim (ultra-Orthodox), religious but never about people from Ethiopian origin. The Ethiopian community is based in Ramleh, Lod, Petach Tikva, Netanya, Afulah in the North, Rechovot, kiryat Malachi, Ashkelon and Ashdod. Note that I haven’t mentioned Ramat Aviv. These cities have absorbed the Ethiopians into hard and challenging neighborhoods, that is, neighborhoods with challenging populations.
The community went through major crises in the absorption process. The first lie was when they told us at the airport that we had arrived to Jerusalem. The first crisis was the initiative to invalidate the tradition we have kept for 2000 years (The Kessim, the holidays, and the tradition) and to enforce a conversion for stringency’s sake. Eventually Ovadia Yosef recognized our Judaism. The crisis shook the community, but the people forgave and carried on.
The second and more sever crisis was the “Blood Affair” in the ‘90s. They decided to throw away the blood of people who were raised, educated and did national service. I personally was offended that they through away my blood. It shook our place as a community, society and our integration into the Jewish society. I can understand the reasons for throwing away the blood, but not the fact that we were lied to: we were asked to donate and then they lied and threw it away.
Another example of a crisis is when in 2004 it they didn’t want to sell or rent apartments in Kiryat Malachi to people from Ethiopian origin. They claimed the Ethiopians will decrease the apartments’ value. It offended me personally as a mother of three children. I am almost thirty years here, not a new immigrant, but I understand that I will always be seen as one because of the color of my skin. This crisis proved to the young people who were born and raised here how much of a struggle is needed for us to integrate into the different cities.
These crises take place on two very significant levels:
1) Identity. Who is an Israeli, who is a Jew, who owns this society? In the schools they didn’t teach the tradition the Ethiopian children hailed from – their history, Ethiopian holidays, Memorial Day for the people who perished in Sudan, not about leaders of the Jewish community in Ethiopia, i.e. the children didn’t understand their culture’s relevance.
2) Belonging – The wish to belong to the Israeli society out of Zionism, as equals. That we will no longer be judged based on the tone of our skin. We have asked ourselves if it were possible that an Ethiopian could have been the victim of the lynching in Beer Sheva, based on the color of his skin.
General society needs to realize that the different segments in it have assets; therefore we at FIDEL try to bridge using different plans and activities. Through mediation in schools we try to use our values and culture to bring about change. I don’t feel deprived. There are leaders among us who believe we are part of this country and society, therefore the society can’t make our decisions for us any longer. These are people who were born here, academics.
Each of us needs to ask him/herself where is my connection to the state? I think the route for change is through connecting and studying.
Question: Would it have been possible to absorb the Ethiopians differently?
Answer: In the absorption process the assets of the Ethiopian community weren’t taken into consideration. It is an agricultural community that had to figure out what an elevators and refrigerators were. But if we were to be incorporated in moshavim and kibbutzim, I think the absorption would have been easier and the assets, knowledge and agricultural experience which we brought with us could have been used. It was said of the Russian immigrants that they brought assets with them. We did too, but they are not recognized.
Question: How much is the community involved in decisions concerning it?
Answer: In recent years, there is much more cooperation and demand from the Ethiopians to be involved. The trouble is with the application of conclusions, sometimes they are applied by people who are not familiar with the community.
I would like to speak about digital-culture, web-culture and its relation to mixed cities and to different sectors. There is a utopian and a dystopian aspect to it.
The utopian aspect assumes that technology is full with potential to improve society. There are expectations that it will solve all of humanity’s problems. The web is perceived as a democratic place. In the internet’s first days it was believed that the web will flatten the world, there will no longer be races as everyone will be able to speak to each other anonymously and as equals.
Contra to it there is a dystopian attitude concerning digital culture. In the past, we have known thinkers who claimed that technology dehumanizes man, ruins society and breaks up the fabric of humankind. Despite what is said about the internet, it is a place where racism arises and all the social issues are present on the web. Today we have more physical barriers. As the world becomes more technological and networked, there are more barriers. As there is more digital media in a country, there are bigger gaps in it. Technology as separating between the poor and the rich is a studied area.
Even authors, who claimed in the past that the internet is a fantastic thing, took back their words. Jaron Lanier, one of the web’s pioneers, was among those who foresaw its positive aspects and took back what he originally said. He claims the web polarizes us and dismantles capitalistic economy. He claims that while receiving things from the internet for free, we ourselves become the product. Likewise there are psychologists like Sherry Turkel who encourage people to return to face to face communication without a technological intermediary.
I want to discuss the question of using digital media to create opportunities for mixing across the sectors. I think the answer is positive and I will give a few examples of how it is possible to advance social goals through technology:
- A web campaign called “Jews and Arabs refuse to be enemies” – It is not only a slogan but there was a demonstration and Facebook discussions which brought together different sectors. Usually the different sectors create closure mechanisms (to isolate themselves) and there is a need to develop new mechanisms for the sectors to meet.
- Communal Apps. – Technology which is available for the community and can become communal. Carpooling to work, finding parks to work out together and plan sustainability, etc.
- Internet platforms to talk and create dialogue between different sectors. One such platform is “Games for peace”, which is based on the Minecraft web game.