Spoken Arabic is to become mandatory in all Jewish primary schools in Israel, officials at the Ministry of Education have announced.
The news was welcomed as having potentially “far-reaching implications for Jewish-Arab relations” after a ten-year campaign by charities finally paid off.
“We cannot overstate the importance of this landmark decision to the future of Israeli society,” said a spokeswoman for The Abraham Fund Initiative, whose Ya Salam programme led to the policy change.
Speaking at the Knesset Education Committee last week, Amnon Be’eri-Sulitzeanu, director of the Abraham Fund, said: “We are delighted… This is the beginning of a revolution in the study and proficiency of Arabic among Jewish students.”
Arabic was already Israel’s second official language but the announcement, made last week on the first ever ‘Arabic Language Day,’ will now see pupils in Grades 5 and 6 learn spoken Arabic at school.
For years, organisations working with Arab and Jewish children have said that communication is a major obstacle to improved relations, with Hebrew teaching in Arab villages either of poor quality or non-existent.
TAFI said evaluation of its Ya Salam programme had shown that “students quickly pick up spoken Arabic, learn to love the language, and identify more closely with Arab citizens than their counterparts”.
Toni Rickenback, Director, UK Task Force said: “The UK Task Force welcomes the decision by Israel’s Ministry of Education to teach Arabic to all pupils from 5th grade. Although the vast majority of Arab citizens of Israel speak Hebrew fluently as a second language, teaching Arabic to all Israeli pupils recognises the importance of language as a cultural bridge between Jewish and Arab citizens in Israel. A number of Israeli NGOs have been working to build connections between communities through education, and the impact of these programmes is helping to create a shared society for all Israeli citizens.”