By Sheba Sethi

This fall, the Khalil Gibran International Academy public school opened in Brooklyn, New York. The school welcomed over sixty sixth graders and will eventually hold grades 6-12. The school has a focus on the study of Arabic language and culture. It is named after a famous Lebanese poet who promoted peace.

This summer, the school’s principal, Dhabah “Debbie” Almontasar, resigned after months of attacks that tried to prevent the school from opening. Opponents claim the school will promote radical Islam.

Almontasar speaks fluent Arabic and is an experienced teacher who helped establish the school. In an interview, Almontasar defended the Arabic word intifada by saying that it translates as “shaking off,” but in the United States it is often associated with the Palestinian uprising against Israel. Almontasar apologized, but she was still strongly criticized and eventually resigned.

Her replacement, Debbie Salzberg, does not speak Arabic.

Some people feel that Almontasar should not have made a statement about the word. Others think she was unfairly attacked by people who oppose an Arabic dual-language school and who just wanted an excuse to criticize it. They think she was right to explain the word, instead of letting it be defined by stereotypes. A statement by the women youth organizers at Arab Women Active in the Arts and Media says, “The media is taking an Arabic word and using it to create confusion and distrust targeted at Arab and Muslim people.”