More than 15 years after Hebrew teaching was stopped in Palestinian schools, the Hamas-run Ministry of Education in Gaza has decided to reintroduce Hebrew courses in government-run schools that include the 7th to 9th grades.
The step was made unilaterally, separate from the Palestinian Authority's curriculum that prevails in the West Bank.
According to education ministry official Sumayya al-Nakhala, it is very important for an occupied people to know the language of their occupier, and Palestinians under the Israeli occupation are no exception.
Although Israel withdrew its troops from Gaza in 2005, the territory is still economically dependent on Israel.
"Learning Hebrew will make life of the students easier. They will be able to understand Israeli media, read Israeli products' labels, and be able to deal with Israelis if they have to go there," al-Nakhala said.
Many Gazans speak Hebrew, especially those who used to work in Israel before it decided to stop hiring Palestinian laborers from Gaza after Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit was captured in 2006.
Today, only a limited number of Gaza residents can go from Gaza to Israel. These include patients with critical cases, tradesmen travelling on business, and some employees of international organisations.
'The language of my enemy'
"It's the language of my enemy. This would help me to understand the way he thinks."
- Nadine Al-Ashi, student
In the project's first year, dozens of prep schools in Gaza have begun teaching Hebrew as an elective class in the 9th grade.
At Hasan Salama prep school in Gaza City, dozens of female 9th-graders learn to write the Hebrew alphabet's handwritten script. In the first semester, they had learned how to read the language's printed letters.
Nadine Al-Ashi, 15, said she's finding it both useful and interesting to learn Hebrew. "It's the language of my enemy. This would help me to understand the way he thinks," explains Nadine, who got top marks on her Hebrew exam in the first semester.
Nadine's teacher, 45-year-old Maysam Al-Khateeb, says although she is very satisfied with her students' level, the new project faces many hardships.
"Besides having to keep moving between the two schools I work in, the textbooks take a long time to be available for the students," Maysam explains.
Al-Nakhala says Hebrew is not yet taught in all the prep schools in Gaza due to a shortage of Hebrew teachers. "We wish more qualified teachers will be able to take a part of the ongoing project," Al-Nakhala says.
In order to get more Hebrew teachers, the Islamic University of Gaza recently launched a one-year Hebrew diploma programme after which graduates will be able to work in schools.
The head of the continuing education deanship at the Islamic university of Gaza, Khaled Al-Kahlout, says adding the Hebrew programme is aimed at enhancing Palestinians' understanding of other cultures. "It's very advantageous, as it will help the candidates to understand the Israeli society that happened to be a de facto neighbour."
He also clarified that many candidates do not plan on becoming Hebrew teachers. Some of the students include tradesmen and patients' relatives who have to go to Israel on a regular basis.
Mohammad, a 54-year-old bank employee, says he is excited, and applied for the programme immediately after he saw the advertisement. "Besides being so keen on learning more languages, Hebrew is so essential for understanding what's going on in Israel as an occupying power."
"Before trying to talk to Israel, I need to understand Israel. Hebrew is the key."
- Subhi Bahlol, Hebrew instructor in Gaza
The textbooks used in the programmes were written by Israeli academics and taught in Israeli schols. The books focus on the language origins, grammar and pronunciation. The instructors are well-qualified and most of them got their degrees from Israeli universities.
Subhi Bahlol, an instructor who studied English and Hebrew at the University of Tel Aviv, says he appreciates that Gazan students have begun learning Hebrew, and wishes it will be applied in all of Gaza's schools and universities in the near future.
"Before trying to talk to Israel, I need to understand Israel. Hebrew is the key!" Bahlol exclaims.
American-based Hebrew literature professor Gilead Morahg, an Israeli, describes the introduction of Hebrew into the curriculum in schools as "very good news".
Morahg, who has taught Hebrew and literature to American students for more than 35 years, has come to believe very firmly that knowledge of Hebrew is an indispensable means of understanding people who speak, think and dream in Hebrew.
"I believe that gaining a command of Hebrew is an excellent way for Gazans to gain a better understanding of the culture of the people they consider to be their enemies, as well as insight into the lives of these people," he adds.
Furthermore, Morahg argues that knowing the language and studying the culture of the so-called "enemy" ends up making one much less of an enemy. This, to him, is why he was so pleased that Gaza students will start studying Hebrew.