The power of speaking Hebrew in Gaza

Can Gazans boycott Israel while also studying Hebrew at university? One Palestinian believes in the power of understanding Israeli culture and people in their own words.

By Abeer Ayyoub

Palestinian children walking by demolished buildings of the Civil department of the Interior Ministry heavily bombed during last November's Israeli assault against the Gaza Strip, February 10, 2013.
Palestinian children walking by demolished buildings of the Civil department of the Interior Ministry heavily bombed during last November’s Israeli assault against the Gaza Strip, February 10, 2013.

“It is 6:30 a.m. Jerusalem time, this is the broadcast from Voice of Israel.” This is how my mornings have always started since I was six years old, or at least on days when I had to wake up for school. Not because I was always interested in the news, but because my father, who gets up for the Fajr morning prayer, can never start his day without listening to the “local” news.

It is a bit ironic that listening to Israeli news always meant listening to the local (Gazan) news at a time when we did not have Palestinian radio or television. I remember most of my childhood was spent in front of the television watching Arabic cartoons on Israel’s state-owned Channel 1 with with my sisters and cousins. I blame my parents for allowing me to watch Israeli children’s programs without raising my awareness about what I was watching and how it reflected the ongoing conflict.

I grew up confused about the notion of a “democratic state of Israel” that I heard about on television, contrasted with the constant invasions and curfews Israel imposed on my neighborhood, the repeated use of the words “peace” and “security,” and the Israeli soldiers carrying their guns while I carried my bag to my elementary school.

Israel withdrew from the Gaza Strip in 2005, yet its footprints were never totally erased. When you arrive in Gaza, you will see traces of Israel here and there. While it is obviously expected, it shouldn’t be accepted. No one said that normalizing with the occupation is only about recognizing its illegal existence and dealing with it; it is a bit more than that.

When you arrive in Gaza you will find Hebrew words everywhere: you can see the word “delek” (Hebrew for “gas”) at one of the gas stations; you must tell your taxi driver that you need to get to a specific “ramzor” (streetlight) since there is no other word for it here. And when you ask the seller at the supermarket if he has anything good for breakfast, he will often offer you a piece of “uga” (“cake”).

At the supermarket one can choose from a variety of Israeli goods in almost every section. But if you are anything like me, you will always avoid buying any Israeli goods. Luckily, there is an increased awareness about boycotting Israeli goods in Gaza. Personally, I began boycotting only three years ago, and although I never thought it was easy, it is totally possible.

And although I am a boycotter of Israeli goods, I am also a student of the Hebrew language at the Hebrew studies program in one of Gaza’s local universities. There is a good amount of students in our class — and the number only grows each year. The program came as a response to the increased need for Hebrew teachers when the Hamas government decided to add the Hebrew language to the 8th and 9th grade curriculums. However, being a teacher is not the reason I chose to study Hebrew. I am interested in learning Hebrew because I need to understand the Israeli culture and people in their own words. It is a must for every Palestinian.

The number of Hebrew speakers in Gaza is very large, yet very few know how to read and write. Thousands of men once worked in Israel before the government closed its doors on them during the Second Intifada. This explains why you hear Israeli radio stations or Zahava Ben and Sarit Hadad songs being played in some of the taxis in Gaza. And I’m not the exception – I recently began listening to the Revivo Project in order to improve my vocabulary.

As Israel besieges Gaza from the air, land and sea, it is not difficult to understand how it is also besieges the minds of the people living there. Yet, I believe that we, the people of Gaza, should have a greater awareness of what to accept and what to reject of the occupation we are forced to confront every single day.

Abeer Ayyoub, 26, studied English literature at the Islamic University of Gaza. She is a journalist who covered the last war on Gaza and has recently covered various internal issues. She has written pieces online in English for Al Jazeera, Haaretz and other publications.

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