In Gaza, these Palestinians who speak Hebrew 15 years after Israel’s withdrawal

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Khan Younès | When Abdel Rahman al-Najjar works in his nursery, the man with the white beard still lets out Hebrew words amid the flowers, a non-nostalgic legacy of the Israeli occupation in the Gaza Strip that ended there at 15.

August 22, 2005. After 38 years of occupation, the Israeli army completes the evacuation of the 21 Jewish settlements in the Gaza Strip, before leaving the Palestinian enclave a few weeks later.

Two years later, Gaza will be under the control of the Islamist movement Hamas, which will push Israel to impose a blockade on this strip of land where two million Palestinians now live.

Without Israelis in Gaza, and without much possibility of leaving the highly secure enclave for work, some Gazans nonetheless maintained their knowledge of Hebrew, without nostalgia.

In the Al-Mawasi area in the central Gaza Strip, near Khan Younes, Abdel Rahman al-Najjar, 58, sows flowers. A visitor behind him holds it in his hands, Mr. Najjar turns around and throws him in Hebrew “taazov”: “drop that”.

“Some words of everyday life, names of pesticides and plants remain (for me) in Hebrew,” he explains with a smile, he who learned the Hebrew language when he worked in Israel, then in the colony. by Neve Dekalim, in Gaza.

“I worked in a nursery in this colony, but the (Israeli) army destroyed everything before leaving,” he says under the August sun, in front of an orchard of olive trees, orange trees and palm trees.

From father to son

Israeli settlements were closed islets, sometimes surrounded by high concrete walls and barbed wire, protected by military posts. To enter Neve Dekalim, Abdel Rahman, like thousands of others, was subject to strict military controls.

Since 2007, Israel and Hamas have fought three wars. And since August 6, the Israeli air force has bombed the Gaza Strip every night, in retaliation for firing incendiary balloons and rockets from the enclave.

Farmer, Ismail al-Astal, in his forties, still fondly remembers the withdrawal. “That night, I was home, I was sleeping. My brother said to me: “Praise be to God, the last chariot is going,” I cried for joy. “

“We were like prisoners (…) and suddenly life came back,” he recalls. He obtained a plot of 15 dunams (1.5 hectares) for himself and his seven brothers.

He too had worked as a farm laborer in some settlements in Gaza, where between 7,000 and 8,000 Israelis lived. It was there that he learned Hebrew, a language he passed on to his son Mohammed.

Hebrew class

“I love learning Hebrew. Sometimes I hear my father speaking Hebrew with relatives or friends. Myself, I took lessons in a local language institute in Khan Younès, but it’s really difficult, ”he explains.

Who to talk to? Israelis are not allowed to go to Gaza.

In the wake of a fragile truce last year between Hamas and Israel – favored by the UN, Egypt and Qatar – the Jewish state began last fall to allow Gazans to cross the border to work, for example in construction, but the COVID-19 pandemic has stopped migration.

Fifteen years after the withdrawal, “Israel controls everything, the crossings, poverty, misery and unemployment”, laments Mohammed.

With an unemployment rate exceeding 50%, and reaching 65% among young people, and a skyrocketing demographics, the overcrowded Palestinian enclave is often seen as an economic time bomb.

Abdel Rahman al-Najjar says he is working hard in Gaza for salaries ranging from 20 to 80 shekels per day (5 to 20 euros), or between three and ten times less than in Israel, on the other side of the thick concrete safety barrier.

“I hope that I will be able to return to work in Israel and that my children will find work,” said the father of nine, whose family lived in the village of Salamah, near Tel Aviv, before the first Israeli war. Arabic in 1948.

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