Hamas offers Hebrew classes in Gaza
Since the beginning of the academic year in the Gaza Strip, a university programme – put in place by Hamas – to teach Hebrew to aspiring Palestinian teachers has been in full swing. The militant Islamic group is calling it “an act of resistance”.
The Islamic University in the Hamas stronghold of Gaza City is currently offering a new course of study: students may now enrol in a one-year programme to earn a diploma in Hebrew.
The classes began at the beginning of the academic year last fall.
Several of the 19 students taking Hebrew classes have said they have pacifistic motivations; they want to be able to read Israeli newspapers, watch Israeli TV shows, listen to Israeli radio stations, and read Israeli history books.
Others are driven by a desire to learn about a different culture. “I feel an obligation to learn about the history, politics, and culture of the Israelis,” Jihad Abu Salim, a 24-year-old student, confided to left-wing daily Haaretz on January 10. “Israeli restrictions and the fact that it’s difficult for us to talk to native Hebrew speakers make learning the language very complicated, but I see it as a challenge.”
Some say it is an absolute necessity to master the language of the “enemy” in order to better understand why they act the way they do.
Learning about the ‘enemy’
Education officials in the Gaza Strip plan on gradually introducing Hebrew classes in all high schools, as well. The Islamic militant group has said that familiarity with the language is a tool of resistance.
Hebrew is currently offered as a language option in several Gaza Strip high schools, starting in ninth grade. The classes are taught three times a week by teachers who have worked in Israel and are proficient.
If the programme is judged satisfactory, Hamas plans on expanding the initiative into 180 other high schools in the Gaza strip, which stopped teaching Hebrew in the mid-1990s.
Arabic taught in Israel in the name of ‘tolerance’
On the other side of the border, in Israel, Arabic classes are obligatory between ages 11 and 13, though some schools offer the classes all the way through the last year of study. Arabic is the second official language of Israel.
The former head of Arabic studies at the Israeli Education Ministry, Dr. Shlomo Alon, told Israeli news site Walla! two years ago that “studying Arabic will promote tolerance and transmit a message of acceptance”.
Despite Hamas’s stated intentions, certain Israelis choose to see the Palestinian initiative as a gesture of peace. “Teaching Hebrew could open doors to understanding,” Israeli pro-peace activist Gershon Baskin told Haaretz.