Arabic language in Israel
The Arabic language in Israel is spoken natively by a large proportion of the population, reaching over 20 percent of the total population, mainly by the Arab citizens of Israel and among the Arabic-speaking Jews from the Arab world. Some refer to the modern Hebrew-influenced Levantine Arabic vernacular, spoken by many Israeli Arabs, as the Israeli Arabic dialect.
Among most Arabs the vernacular spoken is similar to Palestinian Arabic, while Bedouin traditionally speak their own dialect of Arabic. The Northern part of the country is more influenced with Lebanese Arabic (Central Northern Levantine Arabic), especially among Druze. Many first-generation Mizrahi Jews in Israel can still speak Judeo-Arabic languages, while their Israeli-born descendants have overwhelmingly adopted Hebrew as their first (or sole) language.
From the state's establishment in 1948, Standard Arabic was a co-official alongside Hebrew; this changed with the passing of the Basic Law: Israel as the Nation-State of the Jewish People in 2018. Its status is currently that of an auxiliary language and its use in government documents and in the public sphere is still mandated by law.
Modern Standard Arabic (also known as Standard Arabic or Literary Arabic), is currently an auxiliary language in Israel and its use on government documents is mandated by law. Spoken Arabic dialects are spoken primarily by Arab citizens of Israel and Israeli Druze, as well as by some Mizrahi Jews, particularly those of the older generation who immigrated from Arabic-speaking countries. In 1949, 156,000 Palestinian Arabs were left inside Israel's armistice line, most of whom did not speak Hebrew. Today the majority of Arab Israelis, who constitute over a fifth of the Israeli population, speak Hebrew fluently, as a second language.
For many years the Israeli authorities were reluctant to use Arabic, except when explicitly ordered by law (for example, in warnings on dangerous chemicals), or when addressing the Arabic-speaking population. This has changed following a November 2000 supreme court ruling which ruled that although second to Hebrew, the use of Arabic should be much more extensive. Since then, all road signs, food labels, and messages published or posted by the government must also be translated into Literary Arabic, unless being issued by the local authority of an exclusively Hebrew-speaking community.
Arabic was always considered a legitimate language for use in the Knesset, but only rarely have Arabic-speaking Knesset members made use of this privilege, as the majority of the members of Knesset are not sufficiently fluent in Arabic.
Arabic lessons are widespread in Hebrew-speaking schools in from the seventh through ninth grades. Those who wish to do so may opt to continue their Arabic studies through the twelfth grade and take an Arabic matriculation exam. Many students who graduate high school with a high level of proficiency in Arabic are placed in positions in the army where they can utilize this language.
Arabic courses are widespread in the Israel Defense Forces, where all soldiers are required to learn how to de-escalate potential terror attacks in both Hebrew and Arabic. Combat soldiers who are placed in parts of the West Bank and who deal with the civilian population on a daily basis are often sent to brief Arabic courses and Arabic use is widespread in all military intelligence positions.
Israel's large population of Arabic-speakers, its location in the Middle East, decades of globalization, and the Mizrahi heritage of the majority of Israel's Jewish population have all influenced spoken Hebrew in Israel. After Hebrew and English, Arabic songs (sung both by native Arab speakers and by Mizrahi Israelis) are frequently played on the radio. A-WA's debut single, Habib-Galbi, released in 2015, was the first Arabic language song to reach number 1 on Israeli radio and Arabic plays a very prominent role in the "slang" (street language) of Israel's youth.
In addition, when Eliezer Ben Yehuda, the pioneer of the Hebrew language's modern revival, began creating new Hebrew words to adapt to the modern world, he preffered borrowing words from Arabic and Aramaic (both Semitic languages, like Hebrew) than languages that were more linguistically removed from Hebrew. This modern revival, in addition to centuries of osmosis between the two neighbor-languages, have resulted in striking similarities in the two language's grammar and vocabulary.
In March 2007, the Knesset approved a new law calling for the establishment of an Arabic Language Academy similar to the Academy of the Hebrew Language. This institute was established in 2008, its center is in Haifa and it is currently headed by Prof. Mahmud Ghanayem.
In 2009, Israel Katz, the transport minister, announced that signs on all major roads in Israel, East Jerusalem and possibly parts of the West Bank would be amended, replacing English and Arabic place names with straight transliterations of the Hebrew name. Currently most road signs are in all three languages. Nazareth, for example, would become "Natzrat". The Transport Ministry said signs would be replaced gradually as necessary due to wear and tear. This has been criticized as an attempt by the Israeli government to erase the Arabic language and Palestinian heritage in Israel.
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