From a Hebrew-speaking Israeli in one of the USAID-funded courses for Professionals as Advocates of Change…
“One of the strongest impressions left with me after our workshop at Aqaba was that my inability to talk to Palestinians in their own language represents the main obstacle to my really getting to know them, their worldview (personal and collective), their lifestyle and their culture. I also felt that the fact that many Palestinians in the group understand Hebrew, whereas only a few of the Jews in the group understand Arabic, embodies the inequality between the two societies. By the time the workshop ended, I was determined to learn to speak Arabic.
“Other Hebrew-speaking members of the group had the same feeling, and together we decided to create a group to study spoken Arabic. We began recruiting people – mainly close friends – by email and by phone. Later on, friends of friends joined in. The group grew to 12 people. The response was encouraging.
“Another member of our group offered an enthusiastic recommendation for a teacher with whom he had studied in the past. We set a time and place with her, and began studying. At first we tried meeting each time at a different member’s home, but we discovered quickly that moving around made things much more complicated. We ended up in my own living room at home. The cost to each member was low – based on the number of participants; we simply divided the hourly fee requested by the teacher among everyone present. We collected the money once every three months, in advance.
“We all wanted the atmosphere to be pleasant and homey, but the goal was clear: These were instructional sessions and not social get-togethers. And indeed, at each meeting, the teacher gave us a 90-minute lesson, and assigned homework with exercises for us to complete. Sometimes we stayed on after the lesson just to talk together.
“This approach was very successful and we met weekly for a year. During the lessons, in an orderly way, we learned the basics of spoken Arabic (sentence structure, verb families and how to conjugate them, etc.). We conversed about everyday subjects – meeting people, family, food, shopping, weddings, going to the theater, etc. The series of lessons gave us a good foundation of skills and made us feel closer to the language. We became more determined than ever to find a workable way to go on studying and to acquire more advanced skills in communicating in Arabic. Now we are looking around for the best way to move on to the next level.”
“Advocates for Change: Israelis and Palestinians Mental Health professionals in Dialogue and Action” was made possible with the generous support of USAID and the American People in cooperation with the School for Peace at Neve Shalom/Wahat al-Salam and Hewar Center for Peace and Development.