3: Poem, Almog Behar’s “My Arabic is Mute," 2017, Hebrew with English translation; videos of the poem being read aloud by Behar, in Hebrew, and Behar and Ramzi Salti, in Hebrew and Arabic.
This poem by Almog Behar is an excellent companion to his story. "Ha‘aravit sheli ‘ilemet" ("My Arabic is Mute") and its two translations into English appear in a free online collection of Behar’s work here (pages 8-13). In the poem, Behar reiterates the main themes and ideas of the story and even repeats some of its most salient lines. The poem personifies the speaker's own mute, hidden, fearful Arabic as a woman who says "Ahlan, ahlan," an Arabic greeting that has entered Israeli Hebrew slang, and who strives to prove to passing policemen that she is not a security threat (i.e., not an Arab). Note: the translator Dimi Reider translates “Ana min al-yahud” in the poem as “I am a Jew,” unlike the translation of the phrase in Behar's story, where it is rendered as "I'm one of the Jews."
Suggested activity: Read the poem aloud in class. How are its themes similar to or different from those in the story? How is the Hebrew of the poem's speaker somehow not enough, or false, and how does this relate to the way the main character in the story sees the language of his country? How about the speaker of the poem's latent Arabic, in the context of his Israeli surroundings? Why does the speaker consider his Arabic "mute" and his Hebrew "deaf"?
Next, watch and listen to Behar read the poem both in Hebrew and in Arabic at a poetry reading in Tel Aviv in 2014. Or listen to it read bilingually, and quite touchingly, by Behar and Ramzi Salti, alternating line-by-line between Hebrew (read by Behar) and Arabic (read by Salti), in a Stanford University classroom in 2017. (Salti is a Lebanese-born lecturer in Arabic at Stanford, and himself a writer of short stories. He comes from a Palestinian Christian family originating in Jerusalem and Haifa.)
Ask students about their experiences hearing the poem in different languages. Did they gain different perspectives on the poem with each reading? Have the students consider the sounds of the languages. Did Salti's Arabic sound different from Behar's, and did Behar's Hebrew sound different from Hebrew speech they may have heard before? (Note, for example, that he pronounces the 'ayin gutturally, in the manner of Arab Jews and the narrator of "Ana min al-yahud," and not as a silent letter, which is the Modern Hebrew standard.) Ask students if they have ever heard a literary work read in Hebrew or Arabic before, and what, if any, associations they bring to the sound of either of those languages. How might the students' own perceptions of the sounds of these languages, and accents, relate to various persons' reactions to the main character's speech in Behar's story?
Source: Almog Behar, trans. Dimi Reider, "Ha‘aravit sheli ‘ilemet" ("My Arabic is mute"), in Kakh et hashir haze vehetek oto (Take This Poem and Copy It: Selected poems and stories in Hebrew and in English translation) (Self-published by the author online, 2017), <https://almogbehar.files.wordpress.com/2016/12/almog-behar-collected-poe..., accessed March 12, 2018.
Ars Poetika (YouTube handle “ArsPoetika”), “Ars poetika 14 / almog behar” (March 30, 2014, <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fJE1ef4hCus&list=PLWL6Bfgo1AZZpG_bYjWI-hUKeyK4ownJk&index=1>, accessed March 23, 2018), Almog Behar performing "Ha‘aravit sheli ‘ilemet" at an event sponsored by Radio EPGB in Tel Aviv, March 25, 2014, web video.
Ramzi Salti (YouTube handle “Ramzi Salti”), “Ramzi Salti + Almog Behar Reciting Poem in Arabic + Hebrew” (March 7, 2017, <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E6NT5JFIiz0>, accessed March 23, 2018), filmed at Stanford University, web video.