''Ehad-shnaym-shalosh-arba'' (''one-two-three-four''): Hamas has ordered that some of Gaza's schools resume providing courses in which students will learn Hebrew as part of a pilot project beginning in September. The initiative was recently, unexpectedly announced after years in which schools in the Gaza Strip - which went under full control of the Palestinian Islamic faction in 2007 - had been barred from teaching Hebrew (instrument of dialogue, whatever way you look at it). Those with an interest in the subject could at the most attend a few university courses. Beginning the next school year, Hebrew will instead be taught alongside (in about 20 out of 180 schools) English as a second language. It will therefore be taking the place of French and German, which for Gaza's inhabitants - highly restricted as concerns travel abroad - seem much less useful. In statements to the press, Mahmud Matar, general director of the Education Ministry under Hamas, cited patriotic reasons behind the choice. ''Through the study of Hebrew,'' he said, ''we can better understand the structure of Israeli society, understand how they think. We see an enemy in Israel, and we want to teach students the language of the enemy.'' However, there are other needs of a more practical nature as well. Many of the packages of products and medications that come into the Gaza Strip are written in Hebrew, and therefore there is the need to be able to read them. Israeli television channels can also be picked up in Gaza. Children's programmes and cartoons are considered to be of an especially high quality, but are obviously only in the original language. Among adults in Gaza, many are able to speak Hebrew well, either due to having worked in Israel when the border crossings were still open (before the Intifada) or due to having spent time in Israeli prisons. However, they often are unable to read or write the language, despite the fact that modern Hebrew does share certain characteristics with Arabic. Over the coming months the local educational system will have to get hold of the necessary didactic materials for teachers.
But those in charge are confident that the all will go smoothly, since Gaza has educational facilities which are undoubtedly overcrowded (up to 50 pupils per class with a number of different shifts throughout the day) but overall efficient. In part thanks to UN aid and that of other international organisations, illiteracy is under 1% and in the narrow strip of land there are five university campuses. The hope, one can hear said in hushed voices in the schools involved, is that everything goes 'tov meod': 'very well'. (ANSAmed).