“Like many second-generation Israelis, Yehouda Shenhav’s Arabic mother tongue slipped away from him. The reason why one of Israel’s most esteemed academics – of Iraqi origin – speaks Arabic and translates Arabic literature may have some sort of subconscious root in his background, but his fluency mainly arose from conversations with the late Palestinian polymath Salman Natour.
The two used to converse in Arabic over the phone during Natour’s morning commute from his residence in the Druze town of Daliyat al-Karmel to the Carmel Center building in Wadi Nisnas, Haifa — a worn, historic building that was once used as the British Consulate during the Ottoman period, and which is now the office of several Palestinian NGOs.
Shenhav tells me that the routine had an almost ritualistic quality. He knew, for example, exactly when the signal would cut out: by Al Jalame prison, where Natour himself was once incarcerated for helping other Druze in the occupied Golan Heights.
The two men grew to become very close friends. Natour entrusted Shenhav to translate his first novel She, Me and the Autumn into Hebrew. It was Shenhav’s first translation, and they patiently worked on the translation together. Shenhav would translate a chapter and the two men would meet and discuss. Their back and forth eventually laid the basis for the Forum of Arabic-Hebrew Translators at the Van Leer Institute in 2015.”
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