[lg policy] Israel: Ya Salam: Breaking the Language Barrier

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at GMAIL.COM
Wed Aug 25 15:06:17 UTC 2010

Ya Salam: Breaking the Language Barrier

by Samara Greenberg  •  Aug 24, 2010 at 11:38 am


A new Israeli government program is making Arabic language classes
compulsory in public schools, starting from the fifth grade. Beginning
this year as a pilot initiative in more than 200 schools - 42 of them
religious - in northern Israel, the scheme will eventually be adopted
across the country. Until now, Israeli students had the option of
learning Arabic to fulfill their second language requirement in grades
seven to ten.

The program, titled 'Ya Salam,' stipulates two weekly hours of Arabic
language studies and a range of classes designed to acquaint students
with Arabic culture. "The aim is to turn the language into a cultural
bridge - a means of communication," Orna Simchon of the Israeli
ministry's northern district said. "It is extremely important that
every child come to know the language and the culture and thus
communicate, hold conversations, and be tolerant in this country."

Surprisingly, a similar initiative is taking root independent from the
Israeli government in the West Bank settlement of Efrat. The town's
mayor, Oded Revivi, ordered each of Efrat's six schools to run three
hours of Arabic lessons every week for children from age eight to
their mid-teens, starting at the beginning of the new school year next

"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," Revivi said. The majority
of Efrat's parents agree. Unfortunately, however, although Mr. Revivi
contacted nearby Palestinian villages to recruit teachers and "expand
co-operation," he has yet to receive a single application. Revivi
believes this is the result of social and political pressure against
teaching settlers.

While Efrat's efforts have not yet broken the physical barrier between
itself and Palestinian villages in the West Bank, the town - like the
Israeli government - is making an effort at breaking the language and
cultural barriers that separate the two sides. And that is a step in
the right direction. Indeed, as the latest round of direct
negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority draw near,
Israel's new Arabic program is a reminder that the conflict will only
come to an end if and when the two sides take both a bottom-up and
top-down approach to bridging their differences.


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