Learning Arabic along the light rail

The posters that introduced an Arabic word at each station, which were displayed for a week, were part of the light rail’s “Arabic Language Week.”

DURING THE first week of July 2018 CityPass in Jerusalem has put up posters at each light rail station introducing an Arabic word with its translation in Hebrew just below (photo credit: OREN OPPENHEIM)
DURING THE first week of July 2018 CityPass in Jerusalem has put up posters at each light rail station introducing an Arabic word with its translation in Hebrew just below
(photo credit: OREN OPPENHEIM)
During the first week of July, Jerusalemites taking the light rail had the chance to spend their morning commute – or at least the wait for the next train – learning Arabic. Posters at each station introduced an Arabic word, its translation into Hebrew, and a few sentences providing more information on the origin and usage of the word.
The posters, which were displayed for a week, were part of the light rail’s “Arabic Language Week,” which was jointly run by the system’s operator CityPass, the Jerusalem Intercultural Center and the Madrasa School of Arabic Studies. The week also included Arabic classes and cultural events at CityPass’s headquarters in central Jerusalem.
“We are delighted to initiate, for the first time in Israel, the introduction of the Arabic Language Week,” CityPass CEO Yaron Ravid said in a statement on the company’s website. “The light rail is an integral and major component of Jerusalem’s fabric, and as its leading transportation system with hundreds of thousands of passengers... we see great importance in understanding the world of various populations in Jerusalem and supporting an environment and atmosphere that promotes tolerance and open discussion in the public realm.”
Madrasa CEO Daniel Dotan told The Jerusalem Post the program was inspired by Arabic Language Day, which has been held in Israel for the past three years, although generally commemorated only in Knesset and in the media. (Arabic Language Day was held this year in Knesset on July 3.) “We decided last year that this day needed to have a public dimension on the street,” Dotan said in a phone interview.
“The opportunity to collaborate with CityPass and to flood Jerusalem with Arabic words, with a celebration of the Arabic language and the connection between Arabic and Hebrew, is something that is very appropriate for this day, and is very happy and positive.”
SOME OF the Arabic words explained on the posters included:
Salamtak: Your health – In Arabic, when you’re asked if you want something else or if you don’t want anything, you can answer salamtak, as if to say “(I want) your health.” This corresponds to shlemut (“wholeness”) in Hebrew. The expression also can be used to mean “be healthy.”
Finjan: A small cup – When people say finjan in Hebrew, they mean the small kettle used to heat up coffee. Many don’t know that the original meaning of the word in Arabic is the small cup which coffee is drunk out of.
Du’ri: Forthright – A word originally from Turkish.
In Arabic its meaning is “straight” (Amshi du’ri: go straight). In Hebrew and Arabic the word it colloquially changed into dugri, meaning to say something directly and without any unnecessary mannerisms.
Atzli/Asli: Original – Atzl in Arabic means “source” or “root,” and thus when we say hummus asli, for instance, our intention is to “the original hummus.”
Tisbeh(i) ala khe’ir: Good night – The greeting of good night in Arabic means, practically, “that your morning will be good.” The word tisbah comes from the same root as sabah, (“morning.”) The word kh’eir means “good.”
Bluzeh: Shirt – Similar to Hebrew. Arabic also adopted many words from other languages, such as the word “blouse” which sounds similar in Spanish, English and French.
Ala keifak: However you want it/splendid – The phrase ala keifak has two main meanings in Arabic: “however you want it” and “splendid.” For instance, ekakl ala keifak means “the food was splendid.”
Hob: Love – The root of the word means “love,” just like it does in Hebrew. The Arabic phrases ana bahibak (“I love you”) and habibi (“my friend”) also come from the same root.
Mahata: Station – The names of places mostly start with the Arabic letter corresponding to “M.” A similar pattern exists in Hebrew: misada (“restaurant”), mirpa’a (“clinic”), and mispara (“barber shop”).
Elbaladiya: City hall – Balad in Arabic means “city” or “village,” and thus baladiya is “municipality.” Have you heard of hatzil baladi, an eggplant variety with natural ridges that is grown on small farms? That says it’s eggplant harvested from the country. City Hall is also a light rail stop, so this word is spoken on the loudspeaker and written on the stop list on each train.
THE LIGHT RAIL, which extends from Mount Herzl in the western part of Jerusalem to Pisgat Ze’ev in the eastern part, passes through a relatively small part of the city, but connects predominantly Jewish with predominantly Arab neighborhoods.
Its construction and operation has not been without controversy and tension, both geopolitically and locally. For instance, a United Nations Human Rights Council resolution condemned the light rail in 2010.
And in 2014, some stations were damaged in riots. But most days the rail runs without incident and serves a wide swath of Jerusalem’s population.
Most of the signs on the trains and at the stations are fully trilingual – in Hebrew, Arabic, and English – although the Hebrew text is displayed more prominently.
All pre-recorded announcements, including stop names that aren’t proper nouns, are played in all three languages. For comparison, Egged intracity buses in Jerusalem have destination screens that display stop names in Hebrew and Arabic, but the prerecorded stop announcements are only in Hebrew.
When asked how they felt about the Arabic-language initiative, some Jerusalemites responded positively, telling In Jerusalem on Facebook that the initiative was “great” and praising the Arabic language classes held in central Jerusalem.
“I liked the idea,” Ahmad Dakhlallah, whose Facebook biography shows him living in east Jerusalem, wrote of the initiative, “Making people closer to each other is the first and most promising way of coexistence and peace.”
Madrasa’s Dotan said he felt the initiative was very successful, that people learned a lot from the posters and that he was sent pictures of the light rail posters from people from all over the country.
But the posters weren’t accepted by everyone.
Suleiman Maswadeh, a journalist at Israeli state broadcaster Kan, shared on Twitter soon after the posters were removed, a picture of one of the posters with a sticker covering the speech bubble with the Arabic lesson. The sticker said in Hebrew: “This approach encourages assimilation and has no place in the land of the Jews.”
Maswadeh tweeted in response, “This sticker hides a whole culture of hatred, vanity and above all – superiority...
what I can see with certainty is that this country is on the rise – a rise in racism, violence... and I feel it.” He also praised Madrasa’s efforts.
When asked about the stickers, Dotan said only two or three were found covering posters out of over 200 posters in total, and that the opposition to the posters was relatively small.
Whoever won’t accept “the reality that people here live together,” Dotan said, “that’s unfortunate for him. But I think that overall, within the general public, there’s a wide recognition about this need, of recognizing one another.”