Palestinian Women Learn Hebrew

Jerusalem has a population of diverse ethnic backgrounds. More than a third of the population are Palestinians living in East Jerusalem. Most of them are permanent residents, not citizens, and their mother tongue is Arabic, not Hebrew. But many women in East Jerusalem expressed interest in learning Hebrew. An Israeli NGO helped fulfill this request.

Sundus Tawil.  (Mouab video)

Sundus Tawil. (Mouab video)

At a community center in East Jerusalem, Sundus Tawil teaches Hebrew vocabulary used when one visits Israeli doctors and hospitals. Tawil, a student, is a volunteer teacher with the NGO Lissan, which offers a Hebrew language learning program for Palestinian women in Jerusalem. He was among 50 volunteer teachers, both Arab and Jewish, in Lissan.

Tawil says, “Because Lissan helps them learn Hebrew, I want to be a part of that, to make women active in this country and be as independent as possible in Hebrew.”

CEO Lissan said the need to learn Hebrew is acute among East Jerusalem women, of whom 75 percent are unemployed.

Talia Vekshtein.  (Mouab Video)

Talia Vekshtein. (Mouab Video)

Talia Vekhstein, CEO of Lissan, said, “The situation in East Jerusalem is that men tend to learn Hebrew in their workplaces. We call it ‘Hebrew at work.’ Often, they don’t even know how to write and read. But women usually stay at home, taking care of their home, family and children. And they don’t have the opportunity to learn Hebrew. So they remain very dependent on their family members and husbands.”

Lissan conducts Hebrew language courses for 400-500 women each year.

Suheir Espitan from Jerusalem’s Old City takes pride in his ability to speak Hebrew, having completed all four levels of his course at Lissan. He is currently taking advanced classes at Lissan to hone his job search skills.

Suheir Espitan.  (Mouab video)

Suheir Espitan. (Mouab video)

Espitan said, “It is very important for an Arab woman to learn Hebrew to manage her daily life. In the hospital, in the children’s school where there are teachers who speak Hebrew, in the college, in the health offices, social security, post offices.”

Israel captured East Jerusalem in the 1967 Six-Day War and later annexed it, in a move not recognized by many countries. Some Palestinians say that learning Hebrew means cooperating with the Israeli rulers who occupy East Jerusalem.

Director Lissan acknowledged the difficult political situation there, but welcomed the harmonious coexistence of the program.

Talia Vekhstein explains, “For many of our volunteers, this is the first time they have met women from East Jerusalem, and for many of our students, it is the first time they have had a positive and positive encounter with an Israeli. So, of course, this is something to be excited about for us. But our goal in the very complicated situation we live in today is to give East Jerusalem residents more choices and better access to the things they deserve in this city and in the situations in which they live.”

According to estimates, even before the economic crisis due to COVID, around 75 percent of Palestinians in East Jerusalem lived below the poverty line. Lissan leaders said they hoped that by learning Hebrew, Palestinian women could join the workforce and help provide for their families. [uh/lt]

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