Gaza Students Getting to ‘Know Their Enemy’

by Patrick Brennan

Hamas-run schools in the Gaza Strip are going to begin teaching Hebrew as a high-school elective. The name of the class? “Know Your Enemy.” The Times reports:

There are few electives in the Hamas-run high schools here. Students can study health and the environment, or they can learn French. And, starting this fall at some schools, they will be able to sign up for a new course called Know Your Enemy.

It is a Hebrew class, beginning with the Aleph Bet — there is a six-word Arabic acrostic of the 22 Hebrew letters to help students remember. It has been nearly two decades since the language was taught in Gaza’s schools, and last month, after much debate, Hamas officials chose to add it to the optional curriculum rather than Turkish or German.

“Through the Hebrew language we can understand the structure of the Israeli society, the way they think,” explained Mahmoud Matar, director general of the Hamas-run Ministry of Education here.

“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.”

For all its problems of poverty and restricted movement, the Gaza Strip is a place that prides itself on education: illiteracy among its youth was less than 1 percent in 2010, according to the World Bank, and there are five universities within its 139 square miles. . . .

The Palestinian Authority does not teach Hebrew in its schools, and has no plans to do so. In Israel, Arabic has long been a staple of the curriculum: it is a compulsory subject in middle school, with about 350,000 students enrolled, officials said, and recently was introduced as an option in fifth and sixth grades, attracting 15,000. Among high schoolers, 10,000 are studying Arabic, according to the Education Ministry.

Here in Gaza, many adults speak some conversational Hebrew, learned decades ago on the job or more recently while serving time in Israeli prisons, but cannot read or write the language, officials said. While some see the classes as training for future spies, others have more practical, even mundane goals: to fill out paperwork for medical procedures done in Israel, to understand the news — and the cartoons — broadcast via satellite.