• Names under Supervision: Israeli Linguistic Regulation of Arab Streets – Turʿan as a Case Study

    The present article contributes to the local study of street signs, and more generally, of majority and minority language representation. It analyzes the street signs set up by the Turʿan municipality in the North of Israel during the term of the town’s Jewish mayor Yaakov Zohar (2008-2013), shedding light on the impact of top-down political processes on the design of Arab space, its interpretation by a municipality headed by an agent of the establishment, and the namings’ implications for the Arab minority’s spatial socialization. Through the names selected and the visual and orthographic characteristics of the linguistic landscape, the article highlights the politics of shaping cultural and historical identity in physical space. The visual characteristics examined are related to the visibility of the two languages—Arabic and Hebrew—or more specifically, to the representation of one as opposed to the deliberate marginalization of the other. My reading of street signs is informed by critical toponymy and semiotics, which emphasize the ideological meanings inherent in the depth structures of names and visual communication products. I consider the initiative by a Jewish mayor to name the streets of Arab Turʿan an attempt to influence the spatial awareness of its Arab inhabitants in keeping with the values of the establishment.

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  • Yasir Suleiman, Arabic, Self and Identity: A Study in Conflict and Displacement. New York: Oxford University Press, 2011. 271 pp.

    Yasir Suleiman, Arabic, Self and Identity: A Study in Conflict and Displacement. New York: Oxford University Press, 2011. 271 pp.

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    Abandoning Language: The Project of Arab-Jewish Subjectivity in Sami Michael’s Arabic Fiction of the 1950s

    Sami Michael is a well-known, Iraqi-born Israeli writer whose best-selling works have been widely discussed in both public and academic discourse. However, long before writing in Hebrew, Michael published several short stories and articles in his native Arabic during the 1950s. This article examines a selection of Michael’s Arabic stories and frames them as the genesis of his representations of Arab-Jewish subjectivity, while also emphasizing the importance of the fact that a well-known Israeli writer began his literary career in Arabic. I argue that to sketch out a fuller picture of Michael’s literary voice, we must take into account the ways in which his early Arabic writings were precursors of his later Hebrew novels and how the process of abandoning his native language was formative even before his switch to Hebrew. The short stories discussed here all confront the ambivalences and, importantly, the possibilities that characterize Michael’s imagined Arab-Jewish subjectivity, suggesting it to be a literary sensibility fraught with a paradoxical sense of simultaneous potential and dissolution.

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    We can’t understand ourselves without the Arabic: Dreams in Cambridge (2009)

    In this paper I discuss the question of Jewish-Arab identity, its intergenerational differences, its different definitions in Hebrew and Arabic, and the differences in its usage in modern times and earlier periods. In Jewish-Arab identity, as in every identity, there is a mixture of self-identification and outer-identification. Whatever one’s reason for identifying as an Arab-Jew—whether related to the historical and cultural background or because one’s family identified this way prior to Zionism and immigration or in defiance of today’s national identities in Israel and the Arab world—it does not “have” to create as strong an objection as it does. However, the objection is understood when it is an outer-identification that flattens differences between historical periods, regions, or differences between the Jews of the Muslim world. In the late nineteenth century, Jewish-Arab identity was an identification with the Nahḍa movement, with the awakening of Arabic literature and language, and it sought to reweave Jewish-Arab identity, written culture, and memory into the Arab revival, or at least into the Arab literary imagination. Later, in the first half of the twentieth century, Jewish-Arab identity was an identification with local Arab nationalism in the different Arab lands, seen as a potential for a large-scale project, started by the intellectual elite, that would make Jews an integral and equal part of their societies. In the second half of the twentieth century, after 1948 and after immigration, mostly to Israel, Jewish-Arab identity was an identity that expressed criticism of both national projects, Jewish and Arab, their marginalization and nonacceptance of the Arab-Jews, and their exclusive and oppressive nature.

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