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Demand for Hebrew lessons jumps in Gaza as Israel eases work restrictions

A Palestinian worker leaves Beit Hanun in the northern Gaza Strip through the Erez crossing to go to work inside Israel on February 23, 2022. (AFP)
A Palestinian worker leaves Beit Hanun in the northern Gaza Strip through the Erez crossing to go to work inside Israel on February 23, 2022. (AFP)
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24 Feb 2022 01:02:33 GMT9
24 Feb 2022 01:02:33 GMT9

GAZA: In a brightly lit classroom in Gaza, a teacher spells out Hebrew words on a whiteboard, followed attentively by Maher Al-Farra and dozens of other Palestinians hoping to take advantage of an opening up of employment opportunities in Israel.

Increased demand for the classes at the Nafha languages center follows a new offer of work permits by Israel as it has moved to calm border tensions following an 11-day war in May with Hamas, the group that rules the Gaza Strip.

It now offers 10,000 permits allowing Gaza residents to cross the border to work in Israel — a new source of income to a region where 64 percent of the population is estimated to live in poverty and unemployment runs at 50 percent.

Ahmed Al-Faleet, the center’s owner, said the number of people enlisted to learn Hebrew has increased fourfold to reach 160 students per course since Israel began giving work permits in the last quarter of 2021.

“These courses allow anyone who gets a permit to read signs, documents written in Hebrew, and communicate with soldiers on Israeli checkpoints. If an employer speaks only Hebrew it enables the worker to deal with him,” he said.

Some 2.3 million Gazans live in the narrow coastal strip, largely unable to leave to seek work abroad and squeezed by 15 years of restrictions imposed by Israel, which has fought four wars with Hamas and other armed groups since 2008. Gaza also borders Egypt, which imposes its own restrictions on crossings.

Before a Palestinian uprising erupted in 2000, some 130,000 Gazans worked in Israel. Palestinians said Israel had in 2005 barred laborers after pulling troops and settlers from Gaza. No one expects the cautious increase in the number of work permits to end the long-running conflict between Israel and Hamas, who fought four wars since the group seized Gaza’s control in 2007.

But for the dozens of workers and merchants enrolled in the class at Nafha, the change offers the prospect of earning, in Israel, the equivalent of a week’s wages in Gaza. “I came here today to learn Hebrew so I can handle things at my work inside (Israel) easily,” Farra said.

Israeli liaison officer Col. Moshe Tetro said the new jobs would improve Gaza’s economy and “would also serve calm and security stability.”

Eassam Daalis, a senior Hamas official, said Israel was eventually expected to offer 30,000 work permits, which economists say could allow workers to earn an average of 500 shekels ($156) a day, equivalent to what some can earn a week working in Gaza.

“Every week I go back home happy to my family with 2,000 shekels ($625). I also give to my mother and my father,” said Jamil Abdallah, 31, from Jabalya in northern Gaza.

Gaza economist Mohammad Abu Jayyab noted that the offer of permits was one of a series of economic steps agreed under a political settlement brokered by Egyptian, Qatari and UN negotiators following the May war.

Reuters

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