Teaching Arabic to Israeli police improves community relations.
Jewish Telegraphic Agency
"In October 2000, a certain rupture took place,"
Amer says. "Until then, there had been no notion
of community policing. Police realized after
October 2000 that they can't just do security.
Today, in most of the big villages, there is commu-
nity policing. They help out with drug busts, pre-
Most Arabs who teach the language to Jews aren't
comfortable about publicizing that fact. The ulpan's
lone Arab Muslim teacher — who asked that his
name not' be used — asked his parents not to tell
anybody in his village that he teaches here. "When
someone teaches Arabic for Jews, people right away
it on this bench! You've got several options
here and you'd better not make things dif-
ficult for us," one student reads from the
text in his instructional booklet. "These
people are tied to drug-running," reads another,
stumbling over the unfamiliar Arabic cadences.
The students are Israeli police officers, taking a
special course for police working in Arab towns and
neighborhoods in Israel. The police course is one of
many specialized Arabic courses at Ulpan Akiva, the
Netanya-based institute for Hebrew
language and culture.
Among the institute's other
Arabic programs are language cours-
es for Israel's navy, staff in the Prime
Minister's Office, officials in the
Interior Ministry and, of course,
Israel's military intelligence services.
This summer's course is the insti-
tute's first for regular police.
"There are cops here from all over
who have contact with the Arab
community," one police officer in
the class says. "We try to connect to
the Arab mentality. There are things
you can say to a Jew that are offen-
sive to Arabs," he says — such as
refusing to drink coffee with an
Arab, which is considered an insult.
"This course helps me with that. I
won't leave here speaking fluent
Instructor Saleh Dery,
Arabic, but I'll have a foundation,"
teaches Arabic to Israeli police in
the policeman says. The officer, like Netanya, Israel.
most in the class, wouldn't disclose
his name. Some are members of
special undercover units.
think you're a traitor, or teaching the Mukhabarat,"
"The police are taught the appropriate vocabulary
the teacher says, alluding to Israel's intelligence
for their work — if it's a conversation at a check-
services. "It's not like that."
point, if it's a greeting, if it's about customs and
This past year, when the Muslim teacher helped
respecting the locals," says Salman Amer, director of organize a coexistence project in a school in his
the ulpan's Arabic language program.
Arab village in northern Israel, many of his neigh-
Knowing the language is key to building positive
bors discovered from teachers that he works at
relationships with Israel's Arabs, Amer says. "When
Ulpan Akiva. "Some people in my village started
a police officer stops me and he doesn't know my
treating me differently, and it hurts me," he says.
language and just says, 'Open the trunk,' it can
The other two Arabic teachers on staff are Israeli
seem like an act of violence," Amer says. "But when
Druse, both veterans of the Israel Defense Forces.
you know how to speak politely and say, 'Good
Though native Arabic speakers, Druse do not con-
morning. Please let me look inside your trunk,' you
sider themselves Arabs.
treat a person like a human being."
There used to be many Arabs at Ulpan Akiva,
Tensions between police and Israeli Arabs reached most of them Palestinians studying Hebrew. But
the breaking point in October 2000 when, just days
that ended with the outbreak of the Palestinian
after the outbreak of the Palestinian intifada (upris-
ing), 12 Israeli Arabs were killed when Israeli police
"Ulpan Akiva's motto is, 'Language is a bridge to
opened fire on rioters.
a relationship,"' says Esther Perron, the institute's
executive director. "But the last group of
Palestinians we had here left on the eve of Rosh
Hashanah in 2000, and we haven't seen them
When Palestinians did come to the ulpan, they
would mingle in the evenings with the scores of for-
eigners and Israelis on campus. Conversations in
English, Hebrew and Arabic would last late into the
Nowadays, the only Arabs at the ulpan are at the
front of the classroom, where the task of teaching is
not always easy — especially when yoUr students
are unruly and armed. "When you teach soldiers in
intelligence units, they sit there and listen and do
their homework diligently," says Saleh Dery, one of
the Druse instructors. "But these cops need a break
every 15 or 20 minutes. They don't have a very long
After lunch, the police — all of them male — sit
on the front steps of the classroom building, smok-
ing cigarettes and chatting loudly. Their pants hang
low, exposing the handguns they wear on their hips.
Class was supposed to begin 15 minutes ago, but
the police ignore Dery's entreaties to return to their
desks until an administrator appears carrying an
official attendance sheet. Then they trudge back to
the classroom, where three of their colleagues are
sprawled across several chairs, sleeping.
When class finally begins, the policemen practice
reading a text about a drug-related arrest. There
isn't much decorum in the classroom, and control
shifts between the teacher and the gun-toting stu-
"When I taught a class to the border police, I
used to ask them to leave their weapons in the clos-
et," the Arab Muslim teacher says.
Nevertheless, he says he generally is able to main-
tain a good rapport with his students.
"I feel like I'm an ambassador here for Israeli
Arabs. Many students who learn here come with
stereotypes, and when they see how their Arabic
teacher treats them and teaches, they leave with a
different feeling than when they came," the teacher
One police officer in the course, Ovadiya Brumi,
works at a small police station in an Arab commu-
nity in northern Israel. He says the police chose
Ulpan Akiva because it is the only institution in the
country that teaches spoken rather than literary
Arabic. The police learn the basics of the language,
but their course focuses on practical usage.
While the Arabic course for civilians starts with
the present tense, the course for police begins with
the imperative tense — or, as the teachers refer to
it, the "occupation" tense — so "Open the door!" is
taught before "I am opening the door." .
The ulpan's director says there has been a recent
rise in interest in Arabic courses, perhaps a sign of
better times to come. But she is guarded in her
optimism, and she's still waiting for the Arab stu-
dents to return to the school.
"My heart says it will happen, but my head says it
will take a few more years," Perron says. "The spe-
cial atmosphere that we had — we really feel it is