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Language provides a particularly useful point of reference to analyze social relations and political identiWcations in multiethnic societies where diVerent languages “coexist,” like the groups of people who speak them. In many contexts, language is politicized through a discourse of rights, notably the right to self-determination; the collective “self” is often deWned, at least in part, linguistically. Hence, language bears directly on contestations over the boundaries and powers of the state. In turn, governmental practices include the regulation and control (including promotion or suppression) of language usage within a state’s domain. In multiethnic societies riven by conXict, language may be a marker for domination (if a politically dominant group’s language has monopoly over public discourse) or a sign of a failed—or unattempted—project of assimilating diVerences. In Israel/Palestine, Hebrew- and Arabic-speaking groups are both present, and in that sense they are “coexisting.” But the language diVerences , and the barriers to communication that they reinforce, signify much more than the fact that the population of Israel/Palestine is multiethnic . Rather, the Hebrew and Arabic languages symbolize a Jewish/ C h a p t e r 5 The Politics of Language Translators Our community is deWned by our language—our language is the set of shared expectations and common terms that enable us to think of ourselves as a “we.” James Boyd White, Justice as Translation1 132 Arab dichotomy within a sociopolitical order in which government is integrated and hierarchical. This chapter focuses on the politics of language in the military court system, highlighting the roles, practices, and perspectives of translators, most of whom are Druze. The preference for using Druze Israelis in such a capacity is signiWcant, given that other sectors of Israeli society (including those who serve in the military) are also bilingual in Hebrew and Arabic.2 This preference illuminates the particular(istic) ways in which Druze Israeli identity has been politicized within the larger context of Arab-Jewish relations and the Israeli-Palestinian conXict. Jews and Arabs, Israelis and Palestinians Since Israel is a Jewish state and Hebrew is the Jewish language (or at least the lingua franca), the conXuence among Hebrew, the Israeli state, and Jewish identity constitutes and maintains a powerful sense of the Jewish Israeli “we.” Although Arabic has the formal status as the other “oYcial” language of Israel, it brooks no equivalence with Hebrew. The marginalization of Arabic is one sign of the marginalized status of Arab citizens of the state. The politics of inclusion and exclusion are reXected in language ; to speak Arabic in Israel is to mark oneself as an “outsider” to the Jewish nation/state. When Israel captured the West Bank and Gaza in 1967 and extended its rule over Palestinians residing in those areas, the politics of language assumed new forms. Palestinian residents of the West Bank and Gaza were clearly “othered” by their political status as an occupied population. Their own sense of “we” was reinforced in part by not speaking Hebrew, the language of the conqueror, although many subsequently acquired a proWciency in Hebrew. In analyses and discussions about the conXict in Israel/Palestine, Jewish Israelis and Palestinian residents of the occupied territories garner the greatest attention. Since each “side” is identiWed with its own “native” language, the Jewish/Arab dichotomy is reinforced linguistically: language diVerences coincide with the political distinctions between occupier and occupied. The Hebrew-Arabic language barrier combines with an array of other social, political, economic, and legal barriers, including identity-based residential segregation and diVerentiated opportunities for employment, geographic mobility, access to resources, individual and collective rights, and so on. THE POLITICS OF LANGUAGE 133 The utility of the Jewish/Arab dichotomy for framing the identities and relations among people in Israel/Palestine is limited, however. Just as “native language” can be used to demarcate the central divide in the conXict, so, too, can it be used to explore the blurred and contested boundaries among communities. The explanatory power of the national dichotomy is challenged by population groups who are bilingual in Hebrew and Arabic. Hebrew-Arabic bilingualism in Israel/Palestine is a marker for people who reside in the border zones, between a Jewish Israeli community dominated by Ashkenazim (Jews of European origins), for whom Arabic is a thoroughly foreign language, and a Palestinian community in the West Bank and Gaza, for whom Hebrew is the language of military government and an exploitative labor market. They include Mizrachim (literally “Eastern” Jews), some of whom immigrated from Arab...


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