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.
Among Arabs and Druze, the vernacular spoken is identical to Palestinian Arabic, while Bedouin traditionally speak their own dialect of Arabic. 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.
According to Basic Law: Israel as the Nation-State of the Jewish People, which was adopted on 19 July 2018, Arabic language is not an official languages in the State of Israel but has a special status and is used in official documents by law. Before the adoption on 19 July 2018 of the Basic Law: Israel as the Nation-State of the Jewish People, the Arabic language was one of the two official languages in the State of Israel, along with Modern Hebrew and is used in official documents by law.
Modern Standard Arabic (also known as Standard Arabic or Literary Arabic), along with Modern Hebrew, is the second official language in Israel. Spoken Arabic dialects are spoken primarily by Arab citizens of Israel and Israeli Druze, as well as by some Mizrahi Jews (Yemenite Jews, Egyptian Jews, Syrian Jews, Iraqi Jews, Sephardic Jews (Moroccan Jews, Tunisian Jews, Libyan Jews, Algerian Jews, and French 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. This situation can be easily explained: while all Arabic-speaking MKs are fluent in Hebrew, fewer Hebrew-speaking MKs can understand Arabic.
Arabic lessons are widespread in Hebrew-speaking schools 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. even so students don't reach fluency unless they continue their studies in the military, mostly in order to take part in an intelligence job.
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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