A recent New York Times article details how Hamas plans to teach Hebrew in schools. Hamas plans to offer a course this fall to teach Hebrew called “Know Your Enemy.” You might have imagined that Hebrew was already being taught in Gazan schools, but in fact, it’s been nearly two decades since it was taught in Gaza’s schools. Hebrew was chosen, after much heated debate, to be the next foreign language offered along with French. It beat out Turkish and German.
Mahmoud Matar, the director general of the Hamas-run Ministry of Education offered his opinion on the addition of Hebrew to the curriculum. “Through the Hebrew language we can understand the structure of the Israeli society, the way they think.” “The Arabic language is a basic thing for the Israelis, and they use it to achieve what they want,” Dr. Matar added. “We look at Israel as an enemy. We teach our students the language of the enemy.”
Eduction is something that the Gaza Strip prides itself on. The illiteracy rate among the youth was less than 1% in 2012, according to the World Bank, and there are five universities within its 139 square miles. However, education hasn’t come without challenges. Many schools are dilapidated and hold classes of 50 or mores students who meet in triple shifts. The United Nations World Relief Agency is building eight new schools, but officials report that the 1.6 million people who live in Gaza are expected to double in a generation and need a hundred more.
The Education Ministry will most likely use photocopied worksheets instead of buying textbooks from Israel. There will eventually be four levels of Hebrew, starting with the ninth grade offered to both boys and girls, who attend separate classes. It will begin in 10 to 20 schools in September, depending on interest and the availability of teachers, Dr. Matar said, and expand to all of Gaza’s 180 high schools if successful.
The Palestinian Authority does not teach Hebrew in its schools and has no plans of doing so. In Israel, Arabic has long been a staple of the curriculum. In the middle schools it’s compulsory and about 350,000 students enrolled in it. Recently, Arabic has been expanded as an optional course in fifth and sixth grade with 15,000 enrolled. In Israeli high schools about 10,000 are studying Arabic, according to the Ministry of Education.
Both Arabic and Hebrew are Semitic languages that share as much as 40 percent of their grammar and word roots, experts say. The numbers and parts of the body sound similar — head is “ras” in Arabic, “rosh” in Hebrew — as do the words for right and left, and every day: kol yom. Both are written and read from right to left.