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Ulpan, Hamas-Style

Ulpan, Hamas-Style

From the absolute beginners class at Tel Aviv University, where the teacher gave us recordings of “Ani Ohev Shokolad” (“I Love Chocolate”) and I discovered that no matter how easy Spanish and French had been for me, Hebrew would be a challenge, to an Oberlin College class where we sat around a seminar table and nostalgically yearned for our semesters in Israel, to a kibbutz ulpan where American accents mixed with Russian, South African, Australian and British ones, to a JCC in Manhattan intensive a few summers ago, I’ve taken a lot of Hebrew classes.

In my work covering Jewish education, I’ve observed quite a few as well: in Jewish day schools, Hebrew charter schools and congregational schools.

But, thankfully, none have been quite like the classes described earlier this week in a fascinating New York Times article about Hamas schools offering Hebrew , something that hasn’t been taught in Gaza schools for nearly two decades.

The classes are called “Know Your Enemy.”

Which, although a depressing reflection on the prospects for peace in the region, is kind of amusing in a dark, cynical way— given that it bluntly mocks the kumbaya rhetoric one often hears among those touting foreign language study and its potential for promoting intercultural understanding.

Interestingly, the Palestinian Authority — which generally takes a more pragmatic approach to Israel than does Hamas — does not teach Hebrew in its schools and has no plans to do so, according to The Times.

One can only wonder what sort of macabre lessons, readings and writing exercises will be included in the Hamas curriculum — the article says Hamas will avoid using Israeli materials — and whom they will recruit to teach. I can’t imagine there will be any native Hebrew speakers; presumably they’ll choose from the many Palestinians who speak Hebrew fluently, either from having lived or worked in Israel.

One glimmer of hope in all this: despite the scary subject name and the militant rhetoric of the Hamas officials, some of the prospective students quoted seem a bit more moderate. Says 14-year-old Menna Malahi, whose parents taught her to count in Hebrew:

“French language is not useful for us, because we study English, and when you study English you will not need the French,” she said in an interview in Arabic. “With the Hebrew, it is a different language for people who live close to us. The Israelis used to come to Gaza and might come again in the future.”

Let’s hope that by investing in Hebrew classes for its youth, Hamas is not readying a new generation of suicide bombers, but is instead recognizing and accepting (even if it is in Hamas' own not-very-loving way) that Israel is here to stay.

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