Linguistic speed dating attracts Jewish and Palestinian students to Jerusalem

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JERUSALEM, November 1 (Reuters) – A small group of Israelis and Palestinians in Jerusalem, a city of political, religious and cultural divisions, are trying to bridge a Hebrew-Arabic language divide through learning modeled on speed dating.

About twenty students meet each week in a 19th century villa and, seated together, Jews facing Arabic, they practice the other’s language, guided by cards describing simple scenarios that encourage dialogue.

When a whistle sounds every 20 minutes, participants rotate with new partners on tables arranged under colorful murals.

The encounters – quick and cordial, if at times awkward – help Palestinians improve the Hebrew needed to deal with the Israeli authorities, and Jews deepen their fluency in Arabic.

Most of the Palestinians in Jerusalem live in its eastern sector, captured by Israel in the 1967 Middle East War. Only basic Hebrew is studied in schools in East Jerusalem, making it difficult to acquire skills. skills advanced by the Palestinians.

Palestinians chat with Israelis during a speed dating-inspired language exchange program in Jerusalem on October 27, 2021. Photo taken on October 27, 2021. REUTERS / Ronen Zvulun

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“And the same goes for the Israelis – if they study Arabic, it’s an Arabic you can’t use,” said Maya Giz, a Hebrew teacher, referring to the classic version. and little spoken of the language.

Giz, who started the project in 2019 with Sahar Mukhemar, a Palestinian sports instructor and one of his former students, says the language exercises are a “crossing of a mental border” between the two peoples.

She said Palestinians and Israelis participating in the program share “the same embarrassment of speaking and (can) together break this barrier of fear.”

Jamila Khouri, a Palestinian, said learning Hebrew could help her and others “integrate well into the community and find a job opportunity in a good field.”

Jewish participant Eli Benita said learning the language speaks volumes about coexistence in a city where tensions in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict sometimes escalate into violence.

“I see this is the only way to achieve some sort of routine of peaceful life here in this region where we live,” he said.

Editing by Jeffrey Heller and Ed Osmond

Our standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.


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