People writing Arabic words into their notebooks while seated on the floor.

Learning Arabic

March 17, 2023 — “Do you know how to say demolition? What about they took a tent? Or, I called the police?” DD was sitting on the steps in Tuwani, reviewing her notes before her Arabic lesson later that afternoon. “My homework is to write about my day yesterday,” she explained, “and unfortunately all of these phrases are relevant.” 

A person sitting on a tiled floor laughing with a notebook on their lap and a pen in their hand.

Her notebook was filled with scattered phrases and topical words that she had accumulated over the course of the past month of living in the South Hebron Hills: attacked, tomatoes, army, car, running. With little time to dedicate to studying, and an often urgent need to communicate, the Hineinu activists try to focus their Arabic learning on the subjects that are most relevant to their day to day lives: demolitions, settler attacks and trespassing, calls to the police.

Two women in hijab use a handheld whiteboard to teach Arabic to two Hineinu activists. All four people are sitting on pillows on the ground near a small stove. The wall behind them is painted colorfully with a floral pattern.

Three times a week, the activists learn with Arabic teachers from the villages that they are living in, working through verb conjugations and sentence structures. But more often than not, they accumulate new words while accompanying shepherds in the field or cooking dinner with kids.

In the background and in focus are two adults and two kids walking with a large flock of sheep across a rocky dirt path. In the foreground and out of focus is another person walking toward the group with the sheep.

A person sitting on a tiled floor with a notebook and pen in hand.

Learning Arabic is, in itself, a small but powerful form of fighting the policies and culture of apartheid that dominates life in Masafer Yatta. Israel has passed legislation to delegitimize Arabic as a national language, and many Palestinians have had to learn Hebrew and English in order to survive life under Israel’s rule. By learning Arabic, activists are able to play a small role in reversing the language power dynamics that exist in the region. In the meantime, the activists spend their days flowing between all three languages — English, Arabic, and Hebrew — as they try to navigate a system of “law and order” that Israel has worked to make untenable for the people living under it.

Photos and text from Emily Glick.