Hebrew lives on in Hamas-run Gaza

Palestinian Daniel Fares, fluent in Hebrew from his days working in an Israeli Coca-Cola factory, still tunes in to Israeli news stations daily.

Mohammed Salem/Reuters
A Palestinian girl runs past a laundry rope at Jabaliya refugee camp in the northern Gaza Strip, last week.

Every day, Daniel Fares watches Israel's two main news stations, Channel 2 and Channel 10. But despite his Jewish-sounding name, he’s not Israeli. He doesn’t even live in Israel.

To get to his home from Israel, you have to cross through Israeli border control to Gaza, wait for a heavy metal door to open, walk through a half-mile covered walkway enshrouded with wire mesh, give your passport to the Palestinians who serve as intermediaries between Israel and Hamas (who are not on speaking terms), then finally go to the Hamas checkpoint and present your Hamas permit, which enables you to finally enter Gaza.

From there, you drive into the Jabaliya refugee camp, down a sandy street, until you get to the right alleyway. Turn left, duck under a few clotheslines, and steer clear of the leaky plumbing and haphazard streams of water, and you’ll arrive at Mr. Fares’s simple home with nine of his 15 children (the others have married and moved out). You might notice a rusty key hanging on the wall of the front room, which is bare except for a few beat-up plastic chairs arranged on the cement floor.

That’s the key to his family’s former home in Yavne, southern Israel, which they had to leave during the 1948-49 war between the newly established state of Israel and its Arab neighbors.

But despite the bitter history between his people and Israeli Jews, Fares has a clear fondness for Israel – and his former boss at the Coca-Cola plant where he worked for years.

Fares worked in Israel from boyhood until 2003, when Israel tightened the border and he was unable to get a work permit, learning Hebrew along the way. Between a round of tea and Palestinian pizza, he quotes a popular proverb: “In our religion, it says if you know the language of your enemy, you will protect yourself from their hatred and from their evil deeds.” 

He suggests Hebrew can help improve understanding between Jews and Arabs. He recalls one time when he saw a Jewish mother and daughter walking down the street in Israel, and the daughter dropped her chocolate on the ground. Because he speaks Hebrew, he understood what the mother said when the girl leaned over to pick it up: “Don’t be like the Arabs.”

He told the mother – in Hebrew – she shouldn’t teach her children to think that way.  

His own children haven’t learned Hebrew, but he hopes that a new Hamas pilot program will expand to include their schools, and prepare the rising generation for a possible thawing of ties between Gaza and Israel. 

“In the future they could be translators, analysts, businessmen,” he says.

Read more about the Hamas pilot program here.

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