“Know Thine Enemy” wrote Sun Tzu in The Art of War. Children in classrooms across the Gaza strip will soon be putting this theory to practice by learning Hebrew.
Teaching of the language will be expanded in governments schools – around half the schools in Gaza. A faculty of Hebrew studies is being set up at the pro-Hamas Islamic University. Arabic is already compulsory in Israeli schools.
Soumaya al-Nakhala, a senior Hamas education ministry official, told Reuters, “expanding (Hebrew) teaching comes as a result of our plan and meeting greater demand by students to learn Hebrew. They want to learn the language of their enemy so they can avoid their tricks and evil.”
Many of the 1.5 million Gazans used to speak the language of Israel, when many worked as labourers there. Since 1994, when Israel began preventing Gazans from crossing its borders, this number has fallen dramatically. Today only around 50,000 Gazans speak some Hebrew. This is often from their experience of having been prisoners in Israel.
Hamas may be realising the importance of languages in the “war of information” with Israel. During Netanyahu’s recent bombardment of Gaza, the well equipped IDF social media campaign tweeted videos, pictures and instagrams of the conflict in many languages, including Arabic. Recently arrived migrants to Israel were recruited to spread support of the war in their own languages through the media.
Multilingual activists in Gaza also had an impact on the way the war was perceived. @RanaGaza’s soundclouds of bombings and tweets in English drew many international eyes to the situation. The Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades, Hamas’s armed wing, even began tweeting in Hebrew.
Perhaps through mastering Hebrew, Gazans can get closer to what Edward Said called “permission to narrate” their own lives to Israelis. At the very least, Gazan children toiling over Hebrew verb tables can take comfort that their learning is easier than it was for the language’s first native speaker. Itamar Ben-Avi, born 1882, was taught only modern Hebrew as a child, a language his father had only just created. Unable to speak or understand other children, a dog was his only companion.