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Jerusalem schools feature new Arabic-language curriculum for Jewish students

Arabic-speaking university students will teach the program to grades 5-8

Illustrative - A pair of glasses resting on a worksheet used to teach Arabic to Israeli students. (Photo: Nati Shohat/Flash90)

As Israel opens the school year, 30 Jerusalem schools will begin a new Arabic-language education program, “Ahalan,” to teach Jewish children spoken Arabic.

Ahalan is a greeting in Arabic that is widely used by Hebrew speakers.

As part of the initiative, 50 Arabic-speaking university students majoring in education will offer lessons in Arabic to children in grades 5–8, for four hours a week.

Madrasa, an organization that encourages Jewish Israelis to learn and speak Arabic, helped write the curriculum and will be overseeing the program. Last year, the program designers ran the “Ahalan” pilot at 21 Jewish schools in Jerusalem, with 12 Arab university students from eastern Jerusalem teaching the classes, Al-Monitor reported

Most Jewish Israelis – 95%, according to Madrasa – do not know how to speak Arabic, even though 22% of Israel’s population are native Arabic speakers. Learning Arabic is not mandatory in Israeli schools, although a few schools offer it as an elective.  

The underlying goal of the new language classes is to lower the barriers between Arabic speakers and Hebrew speakers in Jerusalem. 

“The aim of the program is to create positive light and a connection to the Arabic language, a connection between east and west, and the ability to communicate through language,” the Jerusalem Municipality said at the ceremony that initiated the program.

“The Arabic language is one of the most widely spoken in the world, in Israel and in the Jerusalem municipality,” said Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Lion at the ceremony. “By teaching Arabic, students will be able to recognize the language’s history and rich culture, and most importantly to speak and engage in fruitful dialogue.”

The program instructors said they believe they can make a difference and have a real impact on the students.

“Through the program, I see the connection between the east and west within my classroom,” Nebal Obeidat, a participating teacher told Al-Monitor. “My students and I go on a journey to the Arabic language and culture, with an emphasis on connection to real life – so that the spoken Arabic they learn could be used in everyday life. I believe that every teacher has an impact on her environment and students and, with cooperation, we can do anything.” 

“The uniqueness of the Ahalan curriculum is not only learning a language that surrounds us in everyday life, but also getting to know a language, as well as culture, that is thought to be threatening, that can become a resource with the potential to get to know the other, to understand the Arabic language as identified with a society and culture,” said Ayelet Yamin, a teacher and the project’s coordinator at the Keshet Talpaz school. “In this way, we can try to advance and grow a society that upholds the values of coexistence, tolerance and mutual respect between the two peoples.”

The Arabic-language curriculum not only emphasizes learning the language for conversational use but also exploring the Arabic culture, to bring Jews and Arabs closer.

“As part of the school’s worldview, which advances a shared life, our students meet and enrich their knowledge of their world with another culture and language that they encounter regularly by being Jerusalemites,” said Dana Gerson, the project’s coordinator at the TALI-Geulim School in Jerusalem. “This is a process that succeeds to break down walls and bring people closer with the hope that what begins with children will influence the adult world in the future.” 

Read more: JERUSALEM

The All Israel News Staff is a team of journalists in Israel.

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