Gaza schools are offering Hebrew to their students for the first time, and the demand for the lessons is so high that the region is running out of teachers. The language program is being encouraged by Hamas, who say that their willingness to teach the language “of their enemies,” is proof of their big mindedness.
Mohamed Suleiman Abu Shqair, the deputy minister of education in the Hamas government, says that the Israeli economy and culture is further advanced than Gaza’s, so residents could benefit from learning the language. Knowledge of the language is quite widespread in Gaza since many residents worked in Israel prior to the tightening of travel restrictions in 2003.
Those who themselves speak the language want to see their children learn it, since they believe the region’s economic future depends on trade with Israel. According to Yahoo News, this attitude shows hope that some day the relationship between the two societies will not be quite as adversarial as it is now.
They also laud the insight of Israeli news analysts, and say that watching Israeli TV news – readily available in Gaza, along with cultural and educational programs – can help them better understand not only their neighbor, but also their own society and political climate.
At the moment the language program is still in the pilot phase, with only 20 of the 400 government-run schools offering it. Each school is offering only a single Hebrew class open to between 30 and 40 students.
The limiting factor appears to be lack of teachers. Yet despite the obvious popularity of the pilot and the Hamas support for it, Abu Shqair doesn’t want people to mistake his motives. This isn’t aimed at improving the relations between Gaza and Israel but to give a strategic advantage to the Palestinians going forward.
“We are not looking for developing things with the Israelis, we are learning Hebrew to protect ourselves and to defend our country from the Israeli occupation,” says Maysam El-Khateeb, a Hebrew teacher at the Hassan Salma co-ed school in Gaza City. Citing a popular proverb, she adds, “As we say, if you know the language of the other nations, you will protect yourself from their hatred and evil work.”
One of the students in the program, a 14-year-old named Nadine, echoes this sentiment. She says that the intent is to find weaknesses in Israeli culture that Palestinians can exploit when they attack.
Hebrew was taught in Gaza schools from 1967, when Israel captured the small coastal territory in the Six-Day War with its Arab neighbors, until 1994, when the Palestinian Authority was created under the auspices of the Oslo Accords. The PA became responsible for the curriculum in government-run schools and did not include Hebrew, although United Nations schools in Gaza are run separately and did.