West Bank settlers plan to teach kids Arabic

By Nathan Jeffay, August 19, 2010

In the West Bank, both sides in the conflict are busy building barriers.

Construction is still under way on Israel's security barrier. Meanwhile, the Palestinian Authority is building trade barriers. But despite this, one settler leader claims to have come up with a plan to break down a barrier - the language barrier.

Oded Revivi, mayor of Efrat, south-west of Jerusalem, wants to make his schools home to Arabic master classes.

He is ordering his town's schools, from September, to run three hours of Arabic lessons every week for children from age eight to their mid-teens, which is unheard of in settlements and a rarity in other Jewish Israeli schools.

Arabic is particularly uncommon in the state religious education system, to which all of Efrat's six schools belong.

But Mr Revivi views Efrat's location as precisely the reason that it should focus on Arabic.

"It's an idea that's very important to me," he said.

"I attach great value to Efrat having good relations with our neighbours, and if we want to maintain any type of relationship, a major element needed is a shared language."

Efrat parents are broadly behind the plan. Rachel Hammel, a mother of four, said she is "thrilled" by the decision as she considers Arabic a useful life-skill and career asset. D

avid Curwin, a father of three, was in favour, for the same reason that some English-speaking parents like Latin. "By understanding sister languages it helps you to understand your language better," he said.

Proponents of teaching Arabic include some of the most politically hard-line elements in Efrat - though their reasoning is sharply different to Mr Revivi's.

"Every child in Israel should learn Arabic, because there is a famous saying 'know thine enemy,'" said Nadia Matar, Efrat resident and founder of the right-wing Women in Green.

But the plan is not without controversy. Mr Revivi has contacted nearby Palestinian villages to try to recruit teachers, deeming this a way to "expand co-operation with Arab villages". To Ms Matar, this is "ridiculous".

But despite trying to publicise the teaching positions locally, the mayor has not received any applications from Palestinians and thinks that he will have to rely on Jewish or Israeli-Arab teachers.

He believes that this situation is because of social and political pressure against Palestinians teaching settlers.

Last updated: 2:00pm, August 19 2010