Aspiring Higher

Aspiring Higher


It isn’t easy to be an Arab student at the Faculty of Law. Language difficulties and the need to adapt to a different culture present unique challenges for Arab students during and after their studies. A special forum called Aspirations, established 12 years ago, works with Arab students from their first week at the Faculty.


Renana Herman


Aspirations is an apolitical student forum established in 2002 on the initiative of Arab students and alumni of the Faculty of Law. “We don’t have any hidden interests,” emphasizes Mohannad Salaymeh, the chairperson of the forum, who is himself a student at the Faculty. “We work on an entirely voluntary basis to influence and change things in order to help the other students.”


Muhannad, what is the basic idea behind the forum?
The forum was founded 12 years ago on the initiative of Arab students at the Faculty who realized that the average grades of most of the Arab students were low relative to their earlier achievements as outstanding students in high school. Arab students also found it difficult to integrate in the social life of the Faculty. The Aspirations forum was founded in order to help improve their academic achievements, encourage excellence, an integrate them in the academic and social life of the Faculty.


What are the main difficulties that face Arab students when they arrive at the Faculty?
The main problem is language. For most Arab students, legal jargon is a “fourth language,” because it is a very elevated form of Hebrew. This also explains the gap between the achievements of Arab law students compared to the achievements of Arab students in other faculties. They also face difficulties in other fields, but legal language presents a particularly serious problem. The Jewish students also find this hard, but it is even more difficult for the Arabs.


Another factor is that Arab students come to the Faculty at a very young age, straight after high school (whereas their Jewish peers have usually performed several years of military service). This is the first time they leave home and begin a new life in a new city. While adapting to studies they also have to cope for the first time in their life with living on their own away from their parents. 


A third difficulty is the critical thinking demanded as part of the studies at the Faculty. The study method used at the Faculty requires students to think outside the box – a skill that most Arab students have not yet acquired. At high school they were usually expected to learn set material by rote before examinations and not to think independently.

There are also cultural difficulties, of course. Most of the Arab students find it difficult to adapt to a culture that is strange to them, and this can lead to social problems and isolation. 



Meeting for the Arab first-year students with first year students


Is the long-term goal to create a cohesive and separate group or to encourage integration?
Our goal is to encourage the students to integrate in Faculty life and in the student union activities. However, in order to realize this goal it is important to build the group of Arab students internally in the hope that this will lead to external integration. We run various activities to this end. For example, over the past few years we have developed a tradition of running an annual trip outside the Faculty. The goal is to encourage the students from different years to get to know each other and to meet attorneys who have already completed their studies at the Faculty. This experience helps consolidate the group and encourages an important support network that can help them in future to find their place in the legal job market.

What other activities does the Forum organize?
We work in two spheres. In the social sphere we organize outings and visits. Last year, for example, we visited the Supreme Court and met with Justice Salim Joubran. In the academic sphere we focus mainly on the first-year students. Every year we hold a traditional meeting for the Arab first-year students to welcome them to the Faculty. We provide them with information about the Aspirations forum and reassure them as they deal with the inevitable pressure of studies during their first week. At the end of the meeting we provide a mentor for each student, and in most cases this really helps them as they begin their life at the Faculty. The encounter also gives them a chance to start to get to know the other Arab students, so it is also very useful from the social angle.


We run training sessions in Arabic, particularly for the first-year compulsory courses. This year we again held our annual training program in constitutional law, contract law, and the theory of law. The sessions are taught by various members of the forum, some of whom are experienced students and others young attorneys who graduated from the Faculty.


The forum also holds four evening programs a year when guests from outside the Faculty are invited to discuss a particular legal theme. The goal is to encourage the students to engage in critical thinking and to expand their knowledge of new fields that are not studied at the Faculty. The guests at the evening programs include leading figures from the world of law and the students respond very enthusiastically. Recently, for example, we invited Dr. Rifat Azam from the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya and Attorney Jawad Boulos. Professor Michael Karayanni and Professor Ahmad Natour, who are both lecturers at the Faculty, have also been guests at the programs. Once we even went to the Old City to visit the home of Professor Nadera Shalhoub, another Faculty member.


We have our own journal, which is also called Aspirations. The journal appears once a year in Hebrew, and the goal is to encourage Arab students to write articles at a high legal standard and express their opinions on various legal issues. This helps them to develop and improve their legal language and writing skills.


When necessary, the forum also represents Arab students in contacts with the Faculty. For example, ahead of the festivals we secure exemptions for students to avoid attendance problems. I want to emphasize that the Faculty is very supportive and helpful. This is my fourth year in the forum, so I’ve had a chance to work with two deans – Professor Barak Medina in the past, and now Professor Yuval Shany. Both of them have always been supportive and encouraging. They welcome every initiative we suggest and provide financial and moral support. I think this is one of the main reasons why the forum is still functioning.



Annual trip outside the Faculty


Can you recall any special success stories?
I’ll tell you about a very recent success story. This year we decided to focus in particular on helping Arab students in their third year of studies when they have to find an internship position. Every year Arab students find it difficult to secure an internship, and experience shows that in the past most of them were unable to find a place through the placement system run by the Faculty. This year we decided to take action to change the situation. We arranged a meeting between the students and Professor Yoav Dotan, who is the Faculty member responsible for the placement fair. We also organized a special internship panel for Arab students only. Ten young Arab attorneys and interns came to the event, most of whom are themselves graduates of the Faculty who are working in various legal fields. Each one discussed his own experiences and answered questions from the potential interns. For me the panel stands out as a particularly successful event. We helped the students to prepare for the process, so they were more self-confident when they came to the interviews and they focused on appropriate legal fields. They also underwent training in how to speak during the interviews themselves. In the end the vast majority of the students found an internship in a place where they wanted to work, including some very prestigious areas of the legal field. The Aspirations forum was one of the reasons for this success.



Salaymeh emphasizes that the existence of the forum should not be taken for granted. The forum comprises seven student members and two attorneys who are Faculty graduates. All the members work on a voluntary basis and give willingly of their free time. They are all very creative and enjoy the opportunity to engage in social action and to contribute to the field. The ongoing existence of the forum is particularly impressive since there is no external body that ensures its continued operation. For the past 12 years the forum has proved the good will and faith of its members, and this in itself is surely proof that it makes an important contribution to the Arab students at the Faculty.


Meeting with Supreme Court Justice Salim Joubran